Samuel J. Tanner 6 minute read


Look, I'm a small man. 5'3' on a good day. Don't ask what I am on a bad day.

I'm short. Like Napoleon. Or Prince. Did you know Prince was only 5'2'? Minnesota artists must be short. And I do consider myself an artist. Not a pretentious one. I don't roll my r's or carry myself with much self-importance. Still, I'm a teacher, a writer, an improviser, and all sorts of other things. I'm a person who makes stuff. All people make stuff. All people are artists. That's all.

What fuels my art? Check the title of the blog. Coffee. I'm an addict. There's no way around it. Mom couldn't get free of the sauce. I can't get free of a good cup of light roast.

Many people think that a darker roast of coffee has more caffeine. False. Did you know that the french roasted their coffee beans longer - i.e. a dark or french roast - in order to cover up the poor quality of their beans? You see, much of their coffee was imported from one of their many exploitative plantations in one of their many exploitative colonies around the world. It took a long time for the ships to bring the beans to Paris. They'd spoil in transit. A lighter roast lets you taste the nuance of the coffee. A french roast disguises it.

Addicts come to know the nature of their addiction with great sophistication. I've been drinking coffee since I was a teenager. I've given it up any number of times. I usually feel clearheaded or energectic after kicking my caffeine habit. But I always come back to my sweet master. It's sick, really.

I decided to take a caffeine break last week. I didn't have a cup of coffee on Monday morning. By Monday afternoon, I may as well have been in heroin withdrawal. A pounding headache, a foggy head, and deep depression. I was dizzy and lethargic. I led an improv workshop with high school students that afternoon.

"I'm miserable," I told a small group of teenagers, "because I'm off caffeine."

They looked at me quizzically.

Incidentally, the workshop was a real hit. 8 high school students traveled from Lebanon, Pennsylvania to participate in the class class through Happy Valley Improv. They loved it. I did too. It's so much fun to work with high school kids. It reminds me of my previous life. Afterwords, one of the chaperones, a mother of one of the students, approached me.

"This was so amazing," she told me. "It's obvious that you are doing what you are supposed to be doing. You know what they say. Work isn't work if you don't love it. You are so fortunate."

I laughed at her comment. She didn't realize that teaching improv wasn't my day job. Actually, I'm a professor now. I used to teach high school. I used to facilitate this sort of class all the time. Not anymore. Maybe I'm supposed to be a high school teacher? But I'm on to other things now. Similar things, yes. Still, I spend more time in the adult world than I used to. Regardless, I could see that I had tricked her. Leading an improv class well is an enormous amount of work for me. I do love it. But work is work. Teaching improv isn't as easy as I can convince an audience it is. That's a blog post for another day. Back to my bad habit.

I made it to Thursday before I drank a large light roast. It was early evening and I was performing in an improv show that night. I couldn't take it anymore. A little skim milk and some sugar. My headache dissipated. The fog cleared. My depression was gone. Glory, hallelujah. I imagine this is what an alcoholic feels when they get that first taste of alcohol after being sober. Ugh. Regardless, the improv show was delicious. I was proud of my work. My art, once again, was fueled by coffee.

Drinking coffee comes with its problems, for sure. It exacerbates anxiety, makes you jittery, and can influence your energy levels. It even changes your brain chemistry. This is certainly the case when you drink two or three large cups a day like myself. 48 ounces? I probably come close to that. And I'm tiny! Think about the ratio of caffeine to whatever else is in my body. Bad metrics.

Still, as one of my colleagues told me - and she's a professer of human development - coffee has been proven to help fight diabetes. So there's that. Addicts will look for anything to return to their vice. Still, a cup of coffee goes a long way to fueling my art. My favorite part of the day is that first cup in the morning, sitting in front of a computer, staring at a blank page, wondering what I'll write or do. So much potential energy.

So I don't know. I'm getting older. My anxiety is increasing. I wonder if this is because I'm spending more and more time in the adult world? It's hard to tell. The adult world often fills me with dread. Not all old people are adult. Some of them are still open to the universe. Redeemed innocence. See William Blake. But many old people are adults. And adults can be closed off, narrow, and cruel. Oh well.

Incidentally, I think improv opens the door out of adulthood for lots of old people. I think that's one of the reasons people gravitate towards it.

A high school student once told me I was like Peter Pan. Because I was short, yes. I used to look like a child. Not anymore. There's gray hair in my beard and my body is contorting into different shapes. See Danny Devito. Gross. This same student told me something else.

"There's something childish about you, Mr. Tanner," she said, "it's why your students love you."

There might be something to that. Certainly, there's possibility in childhood that seems lost on most adults. So much potential energy. Adults so often impose their understanding of things on others. This can kill that potential energy. I'd rather not impose myself on others. I'd rather foster an expression of that artistic energy. Whatever it is. Maybe that's childish of me? It's hard to know. Still, I'd like to hold onto my childishness as I get older. The universe is really pretty profound. And we don't really know that much about it. Regardless of what the adults tell us.

Coffee creates a little potential energy. I guess, for now, that's my addict's justification. I guess I'll see what else I can come up with as a I get older. And yes, I was sipping a cup of strong, light roast coffee as I wrote this blog. A little skim milk, a little sugar. Heavenly.