Coffee is more than just a stimulant, it’s a way of life

Michael Snow


When I drink coffee I feel like Popeye eating spinach: alive, empowered, emboldened and ablaze. (Be my Olive Oyl, won’t you?)


My morning ritual involves two cups on average. I wouldn’t conceive of making it to class (and/or staying awake) before having at least a large one to start the day. I need my caffeine fix because, well, how else could I get anything done?


I’ve been told that my caffeine intake is high. And it’s true, I’ve developed a self-diagnosed intolerance to lactose, my stomach making it clear that more than three cups of coffee isn’t what it wants. Are the wholesome pages of Pipe Dream too pure for me to insinuate the free-falling, deleterious effects of a caffeine dependency coupled with all that healthy, agreeable Sodexo food? Let’s just say it’s a slippery slope.


Before we go down that path though, let’s not be dramatic. Surely the sensations drinking coffee engenders are somewhat psychosomatic and not strictly chemical. Sure, caffeine induces some stimulation and alertness. But the feelings of confidence, attentiveness and even restlessness which I and many of you associate with coffee dramatically exceed its chemical effects.


It seems that at least part of the draw and effect of drinking coffee as habitually and excessively as I do is psychological. Coffee is like any other commodity in our culture, then, in the sense that we attach certain feelings and ideologies to it which are not necessarily contained in the drink itself. In this case, the feelings of energy, edginess and dependency are simply exaggerated reports of authentic chemical reactions.


There is also the image factor. Marx was the first to talk about commodity fetishism, wherein we transplant subjective emotions, relationships and statuses onto objective objects. Just as an iPod is more than an MP3 player — it represents individuality and personalization, too — carrying a cup of coffee earns you an aura of ambition and intelligence.


These two factors — the inflated expectations along with the superficial image — may very well be at the heart of my attraction to coffee. Yet this awareness prompts a perplexing question: How come it still works after the fact?


What we are saying is that at least part of the draw to caffeine is psychological. Sure, the chemicals are still all there. But the intense feelings of dependency we attach to coffee are seemingly the results of a self-deceptive placebo effect, right? Why am I still drawn to the warm, milky beverage when I know that at least part of the promise it holds is made up?


We’ve all construed and upheld the myth that coffee will help you get what you need to do done. Psychologically, I can hardly get started on that looming term paper without a cup of coffee at my side. I know drinking coffee won’t make me any smarter, but I’m still not really sure if my computer or thermos is more indispensable for me to achieve any writing.


I suppose it’s comparable to Hemingway’s relationship with alcohol, Burroughs’s heroin habit or Rand’s dependency on amphetamines (not that I include myself in that list of greats). Point being, as writers and artists, we attach our creative juices to particular substances. In those cases, the substances had addictive features far greater than caffeine. But the initial association between productivity and some external substance is the heart of the matter. It functions like a crutch. It’s sort of like saying, “Once I’ve got a warm cup then the paper will be doable.”


Sure, we’re limiting ourselves by thinking that we can’t accomplish whatever we’ve got on the plate before then. But if all it takes for me to study another hour to come up with a thesis or memorize these 25 index cards is another $2 off the meal plan and a little jitteriness, why not?/ bupipedream