I sit here on a Friday morning in Staunton, in my grandfather’s Morris chair – lovingly restored by my mother, who was good at such things – a laptop balanced on my knees.
There’s something pleasing about this juxtaposition: the nineteenth century reclining chair and the twenty-first century computer – with my twentieth century self in between.
The profound observation eludes me, but then, I’m only halfway through my first cup of coffee.
Every writer requires stimulants. As writers go, I’ve chosen one relatively easy on the internal organs. Today, it’s Tully’s breakfast blend, brewed with quick precision by my new Keurig brewer.
Some years ago, on a visit to Seattle, I discovered a Tully’s shop in the lobby of my hotel – and I quickly realized that this local chain suited me far better than its famous competitor, which tends to cremate its beans.
Tully’s has struggled against its larger rival, but it does make K-cups, which can be purchased for a modest sum at my local Martin’s. So now, without the expense and discomfort of a transcontinental flight – without even getting out of my pajama bottoms – I can enjoy Tully’s coffee, perfectly brewed, while I search for a topic to write about.
Oh, I know – I’ve undertaken a series of articles on how to improve our schools. And I’ll get back to that.
But not today. It’s such a choice day here. To my left, out the tall, north-facing window of my living room, there’s a lovely view of an old brick church. Snow still clings to the lower slopes of its steeply pitched roof – as it does to the steeply pitched street outside my front door.
Later today, I’ll drive home to Chesterfield for a short visit. But if I wait for the sun to come around a bit, I won’t have to shovel as much. After yesterday’s efforts, my back will appreciate that.
Meanwhile, I have the laundry in, and this column to write, if, of course, I can think of something to write about.
The radio often helps me out with topics. I start every morning with public radio – NPR or BBC, or a bit of both.
I can’t understand people who don’t listen to public radio. Or at least, I don’t understand people who prefer listening to pre-digested opinion rather than immersing themselves in the world’s complexity and thinking for themselves.
I could understand listening to music in the mornings. Twenty years ago, in the most productive year of my life, I started each day with Mozart’s Requiem. I was at UVA then, living in one of those charming single rooms on the West Range. I started every morning with oatmeal, coffee, the Washington Post, and Mozart.
The idea was to start each day with a reminder of death, as people did in the Middle Ages – or even in Shakespeare’s day.
The Puritans did it, too. They contemplated death in order to motivate themselves. Life is short. Make the most of it. And the Puritans certainly did – founding Massachusetts and, basically, America.
For most medieval and early modern people – and certainly the Puritans – there was also the idea that, after a short life, they’d be meeting their Maker. I’m not convinced of that, but life is short, and to me, that’s reason enough to get busy.
Perhaps I should go back to Mozart in the mornings.
After all, as much as I enjoy listening to the news, there’s something futile about it. We humans don’t seem to make a lot of progress, for all our brilliant technology.
There’s a story this morning about the College of Cardinals, meeting in Rome to elect a new Pope. These 115 old men – only six are under 60 – will choose one of themselves to lead an organization which has yet to figure how to let go of some fairly silly assumptions.
Such as the assumption that old men who spend much of their time in the Vatican’s splendid isolation are more qualified to speak for Jesus of Nazareth than, say, nuns who work daily among the poor and the wretched.
There’s also radio a story about the Senate - only 100 of them, no longer all old men - but only slightly better at making progress on such fundamental matters as paying the Nation’s bills.
But really, no. Not this morning. The sun glints off snowy gables, my laundry is almost finished, and it’s time to get dressed and walk the six blocks to Cranberry’s, where I’ll find wifi - and this morning’s second cup of coffee.
There are days when I find little reason to believe in human progress.
Certainly, my grandfather’s chair is as comfortable as any modern recliner - and better for my back.
But then, as I finish my last sip of Tully’s coffee, I thank whatever gods may be for the Keurig to face another day.