The Coffee Explorations: Cameron’s Jamaica Blue Mountain Blend

I bought a French press a few months ago and want to figure out what kind of coffee I like best because we only had an espresso maker at my house before. It might be interesting later for me to look back and see what I thought about various coffees while I was drinking them for the first time. For those of you who also love coffee, you might enjoy this post as well. I also wrote about Starbucks Sumatra, the Papa Nicholas House Roast, the Papa Nicholas Hawaiian Roast, and Sam’s Choice Mandheling Sumatra.

We’re not out of the Manheling Sumatra yet, but I wanted to try the coffee I bought about a week ago. I was at the last of the Hawaiian Roast and the Sumatra is low, so new coffee!

Image result for cameron's specialty coffee jamaicaAt Walmart, a few choices caught my eye. One brand was called Mash Ups and featured combination blends. That seemed exciting, but I didn’t know what the pieces tasted like separately. I continued browsing, and eventually chose the Cameron’s Specialty Coffee Jamaica Blue Mountain Blend.

This morning I eagerly opened the bag, and contemplatively inhaled the scent of the grounds. They smell dark and rich and earthy.

After letting it steep in boiled water in my French press for about six minutes, I poured half into my mug. I stirred in stevia and heavy whipping cream to my liking.

That first, glorious sip: It has a really smooth, light taste, and it feels light and almost airy in my mouth. It has the usual hallmark of coffee, of course, but wow! This one is really good!

I’m amazed at how different the varieties of coffee really are. This is altogether a different experience than the Sumatras or other blends I’ve tried.

The bag of grounds was between five and six dollars.

I give this coffee a 9/10 for a great price and a fantastic experience!

The Nature of Inspiration

For day 50, I started a new series Behind the Scenes to give a look into what inspired my fiction. That post was about The Diary of Kaashif Sarwan (that links to part 1/3), my recent novella.

For Praxis this month, not only are we blogging every day, but we are reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. It is a collection of short essays on the resistance everyone faces regarding their calling in life, how to beat it, and part three is called “beyond resistance.” After I finish the book I will write a Recap post on the book.

I’ve been thinking a lot about inspiration lately, in part because I’m reading The War of Art, but also because of Inside a Writer’s Head and drafting a piece about why I blog every day.

I frequently get random, sudden ideas for a piece of writing, new or in progress — this is what I call inspiration. I have little control over what ideas it gives me or when it presents them.

What I do control is my response. I either accept or reject the idea. Then I either use it, lose it, or record it.

I’ve gotten ideas from shows, movies, video games, advertisements, research, books, short stories, articles, blog posts, conversations, and more. My brain takes the input and says, “Hey, we could use that combined with something else or modified in this way and write about it!” for fiction. Or it says, “We should respond to this, or share this information, or write something combining this with the other information we have on this” for nonfiction.

It can be really messy sometimes. Sometimes I have the skeleton of an idea and no clue how to flesh it out.

Based on my experience, inspiration seems to come from my subconcious working to connect things and when it finally does, it feels sudden and unexpected. Because I’m not conciously working to connect, say, elephants, time travel, and romance, inspiration strikes when my brain does connect them.

Inspiration is usually an idea, but sometimes it is a sudden overwhelming desire to write. It’s a compulsion to sit and pound out words.

I felt this very strongly after the first Praxis Wednesday I attended. We met with Rob Goodman, who co-authored A Mind at Play, a biography about Claude Shannon. I recommend this post from Jimmy Soni, his co-author about their experience writing the book. I was inspired by Claude Shannon’s life and the focus he had on his work. I felt compelled to get to work on my writing.

This is a more infrequent form of inspiration for me, but it does happen.

When I get inspired, I’m infrequently able to write at that exact moment. That or I recognize that I shouldn’t start a new piece of writing yet. I have a lot of stories that are in progress. Too many. So often, when I get a story idea, I shelve it for later on.

Overall inspiration can be complicated and unreliable, but it can also be really helpful when I’m feeling stuck and need new ideas.

My Views on Authorial Intent

In my video reading poems from Inside a Writer’s Head, one of the poems prompted me to think of the authorial intent vs readers’ interpretation debate. This tends to be primarily in the realm of written work, but it could also apply to shows, movies, and other media.

In this post, I’m going to focus on my views as it relates to my own work, as that is the main application for me.

My take is a middle-ground, mixed perspective. There is support for both sides, and historically which side prevails has flip-flopped. For a long time before the recent rise of fanfiction authorial intent was king and readers’ interpretation was of lesser importance or didn’t matter at all. What the author meant by their work was what mattered, not how you or I interpreted the work to mean or convey.

I don’t think there is a dichotomy or that we have to pick one.

Both what the author intends and what the readers interpret in a given work matter. They’re both important and give insight into the work.

For example, if I employ heavy color-driven symbolism in a work to speak to characters’ emotional states or journeys, that’s my intent. If you read that story and don’t pick up on the symbolism, you’ll interpret the story based on what you did pick up on, possibly including other symbols I didn’t intend. Someone else could pick up the color symbolism and interpret it differently than I intended. There is support for all of these. None of these is “right” and the others “wrong” per se.

Everyone has different experiences, different perspectives that they bring to a work. What I bring as the author is not the same as what any of my readers bring.

Because of this, there will be different interpretations of a work. What speaks to me in a book may not speak to you. What I think is the most important part of my story may not be the most important part to you. I can hinge the plot on it, but there could be subtle elements that give a reader argument for something else being more of a driving factor.

My main point in that is art is not cut and dry or straightforward. It speaks to people in different ways based on the influences in their lives that change their perspective.

When I was twelve I got into fanfiction, both reading and writing it. That has undoubtedly influenced my perspective on this debate.

I’ve read fanfics in which I really enjoyed an unconventional take of a character and fanfics in which I really hated it. It adds so much depth to a work to see the characters in different contexts or interpreted differently or in situations they didn’t experience in canon.

Additionally, it gives writers practice maintaining consistent characters of all stripes. It is largely an outpouring of love for a given work, and it’s hard work. Sometimes fanfiction is harder to write than original work, becuase of the confines of the existing work. Keeping characters to bounds set by someone else is difficult.

Lastly, I’ve come to see fanfiction as comparable to free advertising. I have found new books, shows, and other work because of fanfiction. I’ve read fanfiction that was not obviously branded as such by the title that was fantastic and sparked interest in the characters and where they came from. And it was done for free. No one paid that writer to spend their time and effort on fanfiction. They chose to do it because they love the characters and the original work.

I can see and understand both sides of this debate in large part because I’ve written and interacted with original and derivative works.

As far as my own work goes, it’s open to interpretation. I have what I intended, but you have what you bring to my work and may take away something else. I’d love to hear about that. I want to be open about what I intend as well as open to readers’ interpretations.

How Praxis Teaches Self-Directed Learning

Praxis, the one year educational bootcamp and apprenticeship program I’m in, encourages and guides self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning is exactly what it sounds like: Learning you pursue yourself.

In the one to two months of pre-program, Praxis participants build their website, LinkedIn, pitch deck, and professional email address. More detail on that here. This is a foundation to build on throughout the remainder of the bootcamp.

In Module/month 1, those pre-program deliverables are refined and further improved. More things are built, including some blog posts to give insight into who you are, how you work, and how you are growing. More on that here.

In Module/month 2, the self-directed learning really goes into full swing. Now participants think of, plan, and execute a month-long project to showcase existing skills or build a new skill. The project is self-directed with additional guidance and feedback from the program advisors and fellow participants.

This is as far as I’ve gotten in the program, but already I’ve taught myself the basics of making a pitch deck, telling my story on LinkedIn, making a pitch video, some video editing, and how to create and self-publish a poetry collection.

I had guidance and input, but I pursued these and the knowledge required for these on my own. I am being taught how to teach myself.

I’m developing my notetaking skills during the Wednseday calls, while reading books, and in the learning I pursue not directly tied to Praxis.

In all this, I’m being encouraged by my peers and advisors to lean in to my curiosity and seek out knowledge, and to showcase my capturing of that knowledge. That’s primarily on my blog, but I’m working to expand that to YouTube as well.

By doing projects and leaning outside of my comfort zone, I’m learning skills and expanding that comfort zone.

Based on my experience, I would say the best way to effectively master self-directed learning is this: Find or build a community of people who seek out knowledge, share that knowledge, and encourage each other in the pursuit of knowledge. Use what you learn. Do a project to learn something or to show the world you have learned it.

If you like reading this blog, please check out my Patreon. There’s some cool rewards available, just waiting for someone like you to claim them.

Some Thoughts on NaNo

It’s November, and while I’m not participating in NaNoWriMo, I have in the past and I have friends who are doing it.

At a basic level, NaNo is a 30-day writing challenge, in a similar vein to the month-long personal development projects (PDPs) that are encouraged by Praxis. You spend a month focusing as much time and energy as possible on one goal, one endeavor. At the end, if you’ve spent time each day working toward the goal, you win.

If you don’t write 50k words in November, it doesn’t matter. That’s not the real purpose. If you do, congratulations.

You really win by forming a writing habit and spending focused time working towards a goal, in this case to write a novel, for 30 straight days.

You can make your own rules.

You can set a challenging but obtainable word count goal for yourself. Maybe 50k is too much but you can handle 15 or 20 or even 30k words. Don’t aim so high that you’ll be guaranteed to burn out.

You don’t have to write fiction. You could write poems, blog posts, a non-fiction book, a series of essays. Whatever genre or type of writing you want.

If you really want to, you could decide to do an entirely different month-long project. In fact, I’d encourage you to do some kind of month-long project, NaNo or otherwise.

I’m not doing NaNo, but I am doing a PDP. For the whole month of November, I will be marketing my poetry collection, posting on social media, interacting with people, and creating blog posts and videos about self-publishing.

That’s my project this month.

Tell me about yours in the comments below!

A Hodge Podge of my Knowledge of the MBTI

The inspiration for this post is from this article I encountered today.

The MBTI, or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, is a popular personality test. I’ve taken it and shared my results on my about page, INTX. I find the concept fascinating, even though it’s pseudoscience.

The test was designed by Isabel Briggs Myers building on work her mother Katherine Cook Briggs did. Neither had backgrounds in psychology. Myers was an author, so I would argue she had some understanding of people, but that is still not the same. They built loosely on the work of Carl Jung and his concept of cognitive functions, though Jung himself did not support the MBTI.

As far as using the MBTI as a tool for self-discovery goes, it may or may not have results that accurately reflect the test taker. I can think of a few different people I know who either test differently every time or don’t think they really fit any of the types. I found it fascinating, mostly because the details about my “type” seemed so accurate, to a superficial degree.

People change over time as they learn, grow, and have more experiences. Personality is not a concrete, unchangeable aspect of an individual. The MBTI seems to purport itself to be an unchanging assignment to one of sixteen boxes.

According to the article I read today, the MBTI was intended to be used by companies to place employees in roles they were better suited for. By placing people in a specific box according to their test answers, they could determine that Sally would be better in customer service and Joe would be better in programming. This could be wildly off base, however, depending on other factors and prior knowledge. For example, I’m very introverted and favor thinking over feeling, so a company using the test might think I’d be a bad fit for a customer service role. In actuality, I enjoy customer service and helping people; I’ve had Walmart customers tell me I’m the most helpful associate they’ve interacted with and my manager said I was excellent at it.

I’m fascinated by the MBTI and personality tests in general. I’m adding the books mentioned in the article to my reading list for further examination, so I will likely discuss this again in the future.

In the meantime, share your type and thoughts on the MBTI in the comments!

Recap: I Came Out as Atheist and This Happened

This is part of a series of posts called Recap. In it I will share my notes on the content I consumed followed by my response. The content could vary from a podcast, to an article, to a Youtube video, to a book I read. When applicable, I will link to the content.

My response was written 17 August 2018.

I watched Genetically Modified Skeptic‘s video I Came Out as Atheist and This Happened. It was fitting for me, time-wise, because I was planning my post Why I’m Not a Christian. In the video Drew tells his deconversion story along with telling his family and friends that he was an atheist.

Notes:

Drew grew up devout fundamentalist Christian. He was a leader in his church’s youth group and went to a Christian college. His last semester of college he started having doubts. He stopped believing creation and accepted evolution. He changed his mind and accepted that being gay was not a choice, harmful, or wrong. He also admitted to himself the Bible has errors. He spent a long time in which he questioned his beliefs intentionally, avoiding non-Christian sources.

In late 2016 he admitted to himself that he was not a Christian, he was an agnostic atheist. He hinted at his doubts to his wife and soon told her he was an atheist. He thought life was over until she didn’t freak out at the news. He thought he would lose his job at the Christian homeless shelter, get divorced from his wife, move in with his parents, lose his relationship with them and his friends, and end up broke and alone. All because he was no longer a Christian. He came out to his parents about a year later. It went better than he expected but was still difficult. He started his Youtube channel after telling his parents. He got really into making videos, gained small following, and started to see it as a part time job.

A few friends found channel once it got hard to hide. Hiding it was taxing; still had to participate in some Christian/religious activities. Didn’t want to become “pet project” or lose friends, so it was worth it for a while.

Went full time on YT in May. Told in-laws and all friends who didn’t know. Very few people were surprised. A few found channel and waited for GMS to tell them. A lot of close friends had loving responses. Best response that he had permission to share, “I love Drew as Drew, not as Christian or atheist.”

Just didn’t want this issue to come between him and friends/family. Moved shortly after coming out; most friends helped him move and set up his new, larger studio. No one yelled at him or shut him out after he came out. Best thing you can do is assure someone that you still love them and value them. Just wants healthy relationship with people. That’s why he didn’t come out for so long. Some people prioritize religion over relationship.

Specified didn’t want to debate; if they wanted to, he wanted to schedule it and have it be prepared and not sloppy so it wouldn’t come between them and ruin the relationship. Cares more about the truth than holding to current positions. Knows apologetics, especially Christian apologetics, very well. Studied it a lot. Hasn’t seen anything new on apologetics.

Considered sad response a negative; big deal, prevented his coming out for a long time. Can’t control it. Sees that it’s understandable, but it’s their burden not his.

For those in the closet, seek out community, even just online. Recommends the Secular Therapy Project and Recovering From Religion Foundation. Openly secular, normalize atheism, make things better for those still in the closet. Humanize atheists to others.

Response:

 

I just came out as atheist to two of my friends personally. I wrote a blog post that’s going to go up tomorrow explaining why I’m not a Christian and mentioning that I’m an atheist. Otherwise, my parents have some knowledge, and my boyfriend is an atheist too. My grandparents, who live with us, are less supportive than my two friends, but did not want any sort of debate. They simply said they would pray for me until I came back to God. I didn’t want to disappoint them so I haven’t told them I’m pretty sure I don’t believe in God. My parents asked questions, not the first time it came up, or even when I said I was leaning towards atheism. We were sitting at the kitchen table with my younger brothers and they asked for my thoughts on some things. Some of what they mentioned I don’t have a position on yet, because I haven’t done research on it.

I’m at a point where I see Christianity as equal to other religions to a basic degree. I see that, in general, it’s not that different. The only reason Christianity seemed more believable to me was because I was raised in it. I was surrounded by it for my entire life until just about eight months ago.

At that time, I was drifting out of religion and wanted to be honest about my disinterest in church. It happened to coincide with starting to date my boyfriend. I worried it would look like I left church because of him, and in fact, my parents told me once that they weren’t sure if that was the case. I assured them it wasn’t. It was a coincidence. My boyfriend has made clear that he is not concerned with my religion, I can believe as I will for my own reasons and he will still be there, it won’t change anything for him.

Knowing that Drew’s situation was similar to mine helps assure me that my friends and family could also react positively. I agree with him that a sad or disappointed reaction is a negative. That’s a large part of why I kept quiet about my disagreements, disinterest, and disbelief.

I plan to revisit this topic later to give an update on how people reacted, what they think, etc.

Why I’m Not a Christian

Alyssa Wright shares her deconversion experience, explaining how she drifted from Christianity into atheism.

I’ve been thinking about writing this for months now. At first I thought it might go on Over the Invisible Wall, but I don’t think it fits. Mostly because of the mission statement we created. I’m finally writing this and telling everyone the truth. I’ve implied a lot about my beliefs through omission of my thoughts, so I’m here to clear up some of the basics and tell my story.

This is just my experience. Your experience can be different. That’s fine. You can believe as you will and so can I.

I used to be a Christian, or at least I tried to be.

When I was five, I went to vacation Bible school (VBS) at my family’s church. The leaders presented the gospel and I asked Jesus to “come into my heart” so after I died, I could go to heaven. I was terrified of hell. If it’s real, it is and should be terrifying. Eternal, never-ending torture with no relief? Who wouldn’t beg to be forgiven for whatever wrongdoing had sent them there?

The next few years I attended VBS, I again went forward to ask Jesus to “come into my heart” to save me. I feared that my previous requests were not genuine and I was still destined for hell. This fear was persistent and recurrent. I could not shake this the whole time I considered myself a Christian.

When I was nine, I told my parents and church leaders I wanted to be baptized. At the time, I had some understanding that baptism is a public declaration to the church that you’re a Christian too. I also knew it was something I was supposed to do, but I had never seen anyone get baptized or heard of people I knew getting baptized. I’m not exactly sure how I came to my decision, but I was baptized, along with other kids from my Sunday school class and a few others.

Around the age of thirteen, perhaps a bit before, I began to struggle with depression. I now have a hunch that it was likely in part due to the hormonal swing that accompanies the menstrual cycle. However, at the time, and for years, it was a near-constant state for me. I still experienced positive emotions such as happiness but a lot of times I felt hopeless. I recall a myriad of times that I begged God to end my life. I was in a dark place a lot of the time. Most of my poetry from that time is about all the negative thoughts and feelings I had.

I was taught my whole life that I am a horrible, sinful human being that deserves to go to hell, that it is entirely my fault if I end up there, that I will have chosen to go to hell. This intermingled with the other aspects of my depression. I felt very strongly that I deserved to die, that I shouldn’t be alive because I didn’t deserve to live. There were times that things felt too hard to handle, I felt like I couldn’t go on, I didn’t want to live. I frequently had suicidal thoughts. I will not disclose more detail about my thoughts in that vein as it is a dangerous thing to do.

I prayed and prayed. At first, I prayed for God to kill me or make the rapture happen now. Later, I started praying that I might be free of depression. I’m not entirely free of depression, but things are looking up. It took years, though, and I was at risk for a long time before I was able to combat the thoughts I was having.

Between the ages of thirteen and about sixteen I kept flip flopping from trying to pursue a relationship with God to giving up and back. When I was pursuing God and godliness I spent a lot of time praying, reading my Bible, and memorizing Bible verses. I asked for closeness, I sought after it. When I prayed, it felt like I was talking to myself. If ever a voice spoke to me when I asked a question, it was quite obviously from my own mind.

I would pray for strength to resist sin, and I would do well avoiding things considered sinful for a few days or a couple weeks. Then I would buckle and cave. I felt incredibly guilty over this. Many times I gave up pursuing God because I kept failing, beating myself up over my failure, asking for help, not getting it, and repeating. More than a few times I decided to quit trying.

In that same window of time, I found that I was attracted to girls and guys. I was taught that homosexuality was bad and sinful and against God’s plan. I didn’t choose to be attracted to people regardless of gender. If I chose who I’d find attractive, I would be straight not bisexual. I didn’t understand why something I didn’t choose was so sinful. A position I encountered was that homosexual desires themselves were not wrong but acting on them was. However, to be consistent, you have to acknowledge that based on Jesus’ equation of lust and adultery, homosexual desires are the same as acting upon those desires. It didn’t make sense to me why it was sinful.

For about the last year and a half, I started having more problems with aspects of Christianity not making sense. While I thought through some of the contentions, I stumbled into the atheist community on YouTube and started watching videos. A lot of what they were saying made a lot of sense to me. What I knew and understood of theology, philosophy, and logic was not sufficient to form counterarguments I found convincing. At that time, and for a while, I was at near-perfect agnosticism, uncertainty whether there is or is not a god. I have since drifted further from agnostic theism into agnostic atheism.

I have an article I wrote detailing a logical problem I have with a specific aspect of Christianity and God. It is too long to include here so I will be editing it and sharing it in the future.

I was once committed to theism and Christianity. My life centered around it. Everyone I knew well was a Christian. It was easy. Over time, faith wasn’t enough, the arguments weren’t convincing enough, and it fell apart for me. That is why I no longer consider myself a Christian.

If you have questions, please ask them in the comments. I don’t want a debate, but if you want more detail about certain parts of my story I will do my best to recall them.

The Coffee Explorations: Papa Nicholas House Roast

This is perhaps an unusual post for a mostly creative-content blog. I recently bought a French press and haven’t the slightest idea what kind of coffee I like because we only had an espresso maker at my house before. It might be interesting later for me to look back and see what I thought about various coffees while I was drinking them for the first time. For those of you who also love coffee, you might enjoy this post as well.

I also wrote about Starbucks Sumatra.

When I opened the bag of coffee grounds, a pleasant coffee aroma hit my nose. I hoped that this would be a sure sign of enjoying the taste as well. I was not disappointed. I initially chose this coffee at Walmart because it had a one dollar off coupon attached to it with no clue whether it was a good choice. Now I think it was.

Two scoops of coffee grounds steeped in a “four cup” French press in boiling water for seven minutes. After I filtered out the grounds, I poured both cups into my large Harry Potter mug emblazoned with the crest of Slytherin. Yesterday I found the second cup of coffee poured to be a bit thin, and this might be a way to combat that.

I smelled the black coffee; it had a rich smell similar to the grounds. I tend to dislike black coffee because of its bitterness, so I declined to sip it black. I stirred in raw sugar and then heavy whipping cream. Sipped it. It was hot and smooth and delicious.

Without the coupon, it was $5.48 plus tax. I would buy it again, with or without a dollar off. I’ll probably try more of their roasts in the future.

I give Papa Nicholas House Roast an 8/10 for price and an 8/10 for taste.