January 18, 2013

Shit Shots

Hemingway said that the first draft of anything is shit. Disregard your feelings towards the man and his works if you can, for opinions on both skew a bit harsh, I've found. Perhaps you find him a drunk, bloodthirsty hypocrite. Perhaps you find his writing dry and unimaginative. (Full disclosure: I'm consistently impressed by the simple power of Hemginway's prose. It reads like a gale wind.) But you know of whom I speak, though I gave no last name. (If you don't, well, then never mind.) I needn't specify that the Hemingway in question is Earnest, an important distinction in identifying long dead authors. (And important, in and of itself, if Wilde is to be believed.)

So the man is important, I think you'll grant at least that much. So let's take that quote again: The first draft of anything is shit.

I rather like that quote. It gives permission to write, to fail, and to write again. The writer who admits there is honest effort in doing so encourages more so than one who builds a narrative of effortless genius. The truth is that you will write many things, and most of them will never be read by eyes but your own. And your eyes will see those failures, and hold on to them. You will only see those things, blind to whatever success and praise you may receive. You will know that, for ever work that invites praise, there are hundreds more banished in to nothing.

It is a bit like espresso, I think. I would never serve my first shots of the day. Frequently, I don't serve my third or fourth either. I grind and tamp and pull and taste the sour mess until it is no longer sour, but rich and sweet in correct and beautiful balance. And then I serve. People taste the good espresso and comment on it, appreciative and full of kind words. They are not merely thanking you for the espresso they enjoy, but also the shots that you puckered down. Some might call this waste, and I can understand that point of view. But it is wrong. It is wrong because serving espresso is not about serving a certain volume or a certain thing that fits basic parameters; it is about providing an experience that had better be good, had better achieve a high standard. Fail to meet that standard, and you've failed the customer, your shop, and yourself.

This is not to say that perfection is the goal; there will be bad shots. You will arrive and the grind will not be were you want it and damn that machine is just off today. Things will happen; shit will happen; shit espresso will happen. But don't serve it. Practice, work, and tweak until it's good. And then do it again the next hour, the next shift, the next day.

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