*This blog first appeared on the Ingenium Books Blog as “The Best Way to Support an Author” and is reproduced here with permission.
My romance with coffee goes back to 2007, when Jay was commuting to Pennsylvania for work and I was staying at home with four kids under the age of six. It was challenging, of course, but we were thinking of it as a short-term-loss/long-term-gain situation. The money he made that year enabled us to buy our catamaran, Take Two, so we would ultimately be able spend more time together as a family, traveling with our children. And coffee made that sacrifice possible. I used to be mostly a tea drinker, but a cup of Earl Grey just wasn’t enough to get me out of bed in the morning to face those little people alone. I bought a Mr. Coffee with a timer so my nose would drag me out of bed before the children got up, and I had a peaceful hour to myself to breathe, pray, read my Bible, write in my journal—whatever was needed for my own sanity. I taught my second son, an early riser, to tell time by purchasing a clock with construction vehicles on it and telling him to play in his room quietly “until the little hand is on the seven and the big hand is on the bulldozer.” It worked, and we survived that year, thanks to coffee.
My romance with writing started when I was six. As soon as my fingers could hold a fat pencil, I was enchanted with the magic of writing—thoughts made visible and transmissible over time and space! I wrote poetry, letters, journal entries, stories, essays, book reports and school assignments with relish. I wrote and illustrated a children’s book when I was in first grade, binding it with a cover made from a cereal box, paper, glue, and staples. I knew someday I would publish a book, even then. I majored in English at Middlebury college and studied literature and creative writing. I wrote a thirty-page paper on the Brontë sisters and liked it. I went to the Breadloaf Writer’s Conference the summer before my senior year to workshop poetry (under the guidance of poet Garret Hongo) and wrote a chapbook of poems for my senior thesis, a collection of sonnets, sestinas, ballads, villanelles and haiku, for fun. I love writing.
These two love affairs came together just before we bought our boat. Since we had become parents, Jay and I had always given each other the gift of solitary time. When we lived in Atlanta, he joined a crew on a sailboat for Wednesday night races on Lake Lanier. When we moved to Florida to pursue our dream of sailing and possibly living aboard a boat, he put the kids to bed on Wednesday nights and I would sneak out with my laptop to go sit in a nearby Starbucks coffee shop to write, something that brought me joy and had nothing to do with my daily tasks of cooking, cleaning, nursing babies, changing diapers, potty-training toddlers, and otherwise dealing with small, irrational humans. It was something that kept my brain from turning to oatmeal.
To support my coffee-and-writing habit, Jay’s dad, Al, gave me the best Christmas gift I have ever received: a bottomless cup of coffee, a Starbucks card that automatically and endlessly re-fills on his credit card. I wrote my first blog post in a Starbucks in January of 2008, right after we had gone to look at Take Two for the first time, while we were still just dreamers and planners. I wrote the first chapter of what would become Leaving the Safe Harbor in a Starbucks. I drank coffee, and wrote, with reckless abandon.
That Starbucks card is looking a little worse for the wear, but still works. I don’t use it as regularly as I used to (most of my writing is done in the morning hours at my salon table with a cup of coffee I brewed myself), but it has made a lasting impact on my life as a writer. It might seem simple—this gift of an aromatic beverage brewed from the roasted seeds of an exotic plant—but it was also the gift of time to just be myself in a season of life that could have swallowed me whole. Without the early support for my writing habit, I don’t know where I would have found the time or energy to write more than three hundred blog posts or finish an entire memoir.
I have often expressed my gratitude to my father-in-law and I hope he knows how much I love that gift-that-keeps-on-giving, but it’s hard to adequately convey how much that little rectangle of plastic has meant to me. Support for one’s writing can take many forms—encouraging feedback, a partner willing to wrangle toddlers to give you a break, a writing buddy who keeps you accountable, friends who cheer you on, and even the simple gift of a cup of coffee.