Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Coffee Spoons

            When we lived in Gainesville I oriented my location in town relative to the various Starbucks locations in town. My haircut was next to the downtown Starbucks.  ABC Liquors was next to “my Starbucks” – where I worked. Our doctor’s office was just past Ashley’s Starbucks – she was the manager. The stores were, fortunately, well distributed throughout the city.

            Sometimes these markers, loaded with some sort of emotional juice (coffee, in my case), are more effective, or at least more powerful, than the names of streets.

            And sometimes we use emotional markers to evaluate the course of our lives. J. Alfred Prufrock famously laments, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons” as he contemplates his aging and the lack of transcendent events in his life, past and future. His mundane “coffee spoons” indicate a tame domestic and social life, and his life is almost over – he has finished measuring it out. How sad. The mermaids will no longer sing to him. (Imagine teaching this poem to a room full of juicy 18-year olds, as I did for thirty years.)

            All of which leads me to evaluate how we “measure out” our lives.

            Fill in the blank: “I have measured out my life with ________________________.”

I have limited my list of suggestions to words and phrases with the same 3-beat rhythm as Eliot’s “coffee spoons,” but don’t feel constrained as you fill in your blank.

·      dollar bills?
·      magazines?
·      business suits?
·      tv shows?
·      football games?
·      lovers lost?
·      books I wrote?
·      what I built?
·      projects dropped?
·      jobs I lost?
·      Pinot Noir?
·      orgasms?
·      trips we took?
·      grandchildren?
·      where I lived?
·      surgeries?

            What it comes down to, I suppose, is how you define yourself. Kim steadfastly refuses to define herself as a cancer survivor. “I’m an artist,” she says. “That’s who I am.” You can be both, of course, and many other things. She is known, for example, as “Mama Kim” to a lot of people who are not her kids. This is natural. But she chooses to define herself as an artist, whether she is working on a photograph, designing a house or making a nice presentation of the meal she places on the table before me. And besides, nobody can be defined as a cancer survivor until he or she dies from something else.

            Perhaps the saddest part of the Prufrock quotation is Eliot’s use of the past perfect tense: “I have measured out . . ..” He’s done. He later laments, “I grow old . . . I grow old . . ..” The present tense is not much better.

            Not so fast, says Kim. Last week we had one of those geezer discussions that she started by asking me, “Where do you want to be when you die?” My answer: “Sitting on our porch, watching the sun set over Torch Lake.” She quickly pointed out that the lake is due east of us, making sunset watching difficult. I guessed that Kim would like to go out while planning her next adventure: her next card, or house, or trip, or collage, or meal.

            I have measured out my life with paragraphs.

Bill Lavery:  poets known
Charmaine Stangl: learning stuff
Kate Lindenmuth: farewell farts


  1. I hope I am measuring my life in bouts of laughter!

  2. This choked me up! And made me ponder about how I'd measure. Hmmm...