New reward system. Carrot, meet stick.

By Anita Garner

The younger me thought I could do a bunch of things at once.   This is not a great time to find out I’m no longer a good multi-tasker, if I ever was.  I’m working or thinking about working or talking about working on several projects at once.  My reward used to be seeing the check marks on a to do list.  Today I am the owner of a single-task mind and a check mark isn’t so exciting.

I’ve started a new book, need to revise (again) a book I’ve already finished, and working on a play which has been seen onstage, but the director and I both know it needs fixing.

I’ve been using the following reward system:  Write a scene.   Brew a fresh pot of coffee.  Work on the outline for the new book. Eat a candy bar. Open original manuscript file on the previous book and stare at it. Cheese and crackers.  Or pie. No matter how numerous and how caloric the rewards, the work’s still there.  Carrot, meet stick.

Eventually my coffee and sweets and cheese system will either produce something good and relatable and shiny or else I’ll be the roundest little writer in all the land.


*Sheep and carrot above from artist Gina Taylor, Cambridge, UK.  Here’s where to find more of her work.  Thanks, Gina, for letting your chubby sheep visit here.  If I don’t change my reward system soon, she may become my self-portrait.


Dear Coffee

I wonder how coffee got to be known as cuppa Joe or java?  Well now I do want to know.  Be right back.  Here’s what Google says.

Coffee is known as Joe because Joe is slang for a common fellow and coffee was considered a common man’s drink. As for java, when coffee became popular in ye olden times, the main source of the world’s coffee was the island of Java. 

This light-up reminder for my bookshelf was a gift. Even Elvis seems pleased about it. 

By all its names I love caffeine.  I love it hot or iced, sweet or not, straight or creamy.  I will finish this with a love note.  It’s no ode, but then what is these days?

Dear Coffee,

You know how I feel about you.  Though some think we should see less of each other, I treasure the hours we’ve spent together, talking on the radio, writing, running into each other mid-afternoons at random places. I may drink fewer cups per day but nothing can diminish the memories of our frequent over-indulgences.  See you here again next week.





This light-up reminder for my bookshelf was a gift. Even Elvis seems pleased about it.

The Magic of Four O’clock

By Anita Garner

Four o’clock is golden.  I can hear four o’clock coming, wearing a bell around its neck.

I feel four o’clock in my bones.

It’s the turning point in the day. Time to exhale. Get up. Think about what’s next. Could be coffee. Could be something intoxicating. Only a rude person would suggest four o’clock is too early for that. It might be a walk around the block or aimless wandering into another room.

Four o’clock’s intent changes with the seasons. In winter, the light is leaving and there’s the pleasant prospect of an early evening by firelight. In summer, if I choose to follow the light, there’s plenty of time left to see where it leads.

Professional schedules these days are often malleable. We may still be accountable to somebody, but how we do it varies.  It’s our own business how we set our internal clocks.   Four o’clock insists I pay attention.  Time to tap into fresh resources and keep going, or wrap it up for the day.

I’m guessing everybody has a magic hour, declared or not, a time when everything shifts.  Four o’clock is mine.  What’s yours?


Water bottles everywhere

Water water everywhere. We take it with us wherever we go.  First it was water bottles.  And sports drinks.  Then coffee cups.  Now all of these show up at any time. 

I’m a bit amused at all of us acting like we’ll perish from dehydration if we don’t have a water bottle to hold onto.  

I’m pretty sure that if we all worked out vigorously at the gym (who are we kidding about how often that happens?) we could drink enough water there to satisfy our thirst and make it home. 

We could probably get from home to work without liquid reinforcement. Maybe even to the grocery store. Or to pick up the kids.

A few years back, I noticed something odd in church on a Sunday in L.A. in a celebrity-strewn pew.  Several famous people who famously arrived at church in play clothes – one of the attractions of our particular congregation – brought their water bottles right inside.  At first they just held onto them, like a security blanket or some kind of talisman. 

Within a few weeks, more bottles appeared and people opened them and swilled. It was disconcerting. Picture this:

The pastor says,

“Let’s sing hymn number 47,”

and before we can turn to “How Great Thou Art,” bottle caps have to be put back on, bottles placed on the pews, while the pianist plays the introduction.

A guest singer steps up to the microphone and the congregation takes a swig. Heck we didn’t even get a chance to address whether or not we should be applauding the soloists (a big back-and-forth discussion in a congregation of performers) before the issue switched to whether liquid refreshments belong inside the sanctuary. 

Then, sure enough,  coffee cups showed up – the paper kind with the hot-holding band around.   It was a good half hour into worship before those cups were drained and put on the floor.  I saw members of the volunteer cleanup committee chasing them down the aisle later, since once emptied, they tended to roll toward the altar.

Oh yeah, I’ve got my water bottle in the car now. It’s one of the new ones that doesn’t leach harmful stuff.  I’m still congratulating myself for not buying the 24-bottle pack of disposable (except evidently not quickly biodegradable) kind.

My water bottle isn’t a necessity, so is it more of an accessory?  It may miss the mark, since a bottle attached to a hand is not as aesthetically pleasing as, say, a good pair of shoes. 

What does our water-carrying habit reveal about us?  That we’re the thirstiest people in the world?  That we are the fittest, most athletic people around?  Or that today we are super-embracing our need to be nurtured?  

I don’t have an answer. I’m just saying.

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Caffeine Self Defense

At the nearby Starbucks, across from the middle school, at certain times of the day – every morning before class and when school is out in the afternoon – the lines of young people waiting to order coffee are out the door.

Backpacks on and cell phones engaged, clumps of them are pushing and joking around and ordering like world-weary veterans of coffee houses.  Some of these kids are small – as is often the case in middle school where that first year it’s tough to tell the 8th graders from the fifth and sixth graders they recently were.  They grow at different rates, so we have some girls dressed like The Pussycat Dolls and others dressed in oversize playclothes.   And I give up trying to guess the ages of the boys.  Some are six feet tall and the voice hasn’t changed. 

 Next door is a juice/smoothie emporium which doesn’t have nearly as many customers. 

I’m in line wondering where they get the money for custom coffee every day?  Do the same people who bought them their iPods and cell phones and PDA’s know they’re here at Starbucks before 8 A.M. ordering complicated coffee drinks like experts? 

Do parents drop them off at school and then the kids sneak over here?  Or is everyone aware – both parents and  school employees – that this time before school starts is loaded with potential pitfalls?

How about after school?  Why are they spending hours in and around a coffee shop?  Aren’t they expected home?  They fill the coffee shop and the plaza in front every day, and they’re all holding drinks.  

Current wisdom says  caffeine can be beneficial for some, when consumed in moderation.  Alternate current wisdom says caffeine is  bad, bad, bad for kids. 

Age-old wisdom says that kids who are ingesting stimulants before and after school may be altering their abilities (or maybe just their desire?) to do whatever the heck else they’re supposed to be doing.

I don’t envy the teacher facing this group in school.  But wait  – here comes a teacher to join the line.  He’s obviously a favorite.  All the kids let him cut in.  Then they cluster around him to sip and chat.  

But then he’d have to be a coffee drinker, wouldn’t he, just to keep up?  If the best defense is an offense, then this teacher’s best offense is  – who will spell it for us today?   That’s right.  C-a-f-f-e-i-n-e.  

Ó Anita Garner 2009

Writing Credits For Starbucks

Evidently my entire town runs on coffee.  With a population considerably less than 20,000, we have three Starbucks and a bunch of other specialty coffee places.  In the village alone, you can buy a different kind of brew every few yards.

I visit them all.  On days when I want comfort and no surprises, Starbucks is the place to be.  I like that it’s predictable.  It’s very clean and cozy.  The staff is kind and I like the music and the coffee tastes good and I like the way it smells and the small tables by the west-facing windows feature views of Mount Tamalpais.

A blogger writing about writing, cautioned “Don’t be caught with your laptop out, working at Starbucks.  It’s geeky.  It’s not cool.”  I have a couple of thoughts about that. 

1)  I’m not sure anyone,  anywhere can define what’s cool.  

2)  I don’t have a laptop.

However I am guilty of writing at Starbucks.  I’m writing this at the one around the corner from my house.  Writing it by hand on a yellow pad with my favorite Pilot Prestige pen with the extra fine point and blue ink.  When I’m done with my tall non-fat latte, I will tuck all of this back into my tote bag and meander on home and no one will have ever mistaken me for a writer. 

No one will say look at that writer with her laptop out in full view.  To the untrained eye, I am just another person making a grocery list.  Which is also true. But today I have, during the course of one latte, messed around with the outlines of several writing projects that are due, and I did it all right here, working undercover.

I’ll bet many writers owe a credit to Starbucks.  Geeky or not, my playbill should read:  The part of the angst-and-coffee-soaked location will be played today by the Starbucks at the corner of Miller Avenue and Camino Alto.  The part of the writer will be played by:  To-Be-Announced – when we discover his or her true identity.

Ó By Anita Garner