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Here’s What’s On Tap

16 Nov

Yes, let’s title with a beer analogy, because 2016 my friends. I think we can all agree this year has been a wash of ugly. (I still miss you Alan Rickman). Luckily in addition to beer, art-making is also a beautiful and highly effective coping mechanism.

This weekend, for the first time in a very long while I am performing in a straight dance show. No singing, no acting, just moving. The showcase is called I’d Rather Be Dancing. My piece is less than two minutes long, but I’ve already put in about five hours of rehearsal and here’s a lovely taste of what I have to show for it.

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I bet you thought it was going to be a cute dancer pose. ahHA. ah ha ha ha.

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There we go

If you’re not busy this weekend, come see me! My piece is a really neat contemporary lyrical/hip hop amalgamation. Showtimes are Friday, Saturday, Sunday at 8:00 at Dance 101 Atlanta. Tickets are only $10! If you’re looking for even more cultural entertainment, I highly recommend checking out my insanely talented buds at Act 3 in Violet, and over at OnionMan an original work called Cul-de-Sac, both in their final weekends.

While we’re on the subject of original works, I’m sure you’re dying to know how NaNoWriMo is coming along *snort*. So far, I’ve stuck to my goal of five minutes per day, and it does usually turn into more (my evil plan is working muwahaha). With wild extremes at both ends, I’m averaging about 45 minutes and 400 words per day. As a result, here at the mid-month mark I’m very close to being done with my short story and have about 40 (.doc) pages of the play. My current struggle is making each scene follow a logical set up without having the structure be completely naked and obvious (don’t you hate that?). I have no actual training or experience in play construction other than just reading and acting in them, and it’s harder than it looks.

For your entertainment, here are the summary blurbs I’ve written about my pieces.

All There Is (Play):

The Finleys are a work in progress. Winn’s long-time marriage is starting to feel more like a triathlon than happily ever after and Willa can’t understand why her childhood neighbor Sam is suddenly on her mind. Formidable matriarch Polly is white-knuckling her tenuous influence upon her children and the community without the support of her checked-out husband Ernie, even as her elderly father-in-law’s grasp on reality is starting to slip. Down the street, Sam’s fragile wife Laura seems ready to drag them both beneath the surface. It will take a national tragedy for this balancing act to right itself.

The Sieve (Short Story):

Gia and Leece are close as sisters. When Leece becomes a White Walker, a voluntary citizen honor guard tasked with a series of targeted peace-keeping assassinations every third year called the Sieve, their friendship will be put to the ultimate test. This is one girl’s story told through the lens of the other, exploring the nature of good and evil, the undercurrent of violence that exists in all of us, and the sacrifices we make for peace.

For those who are really invested in this, below is a sneak preview from the short story. It’s stumbling towards the unlikely genre of Literary YA fantasy, because that’s how it came out of my head. You may recall that the plot is based on a dream, and in that dream the characters were, in fact, young adults and the events were, in fact, fantastical. So you can blame my subconscious. At this point my biggest accomplishment of the entire piece is having worked in a word that T invented at age 2, but which I totally think should be an actual word (since it’s not in this excerpt and I don’t want to leave you on the edge of your seat – it’s lasterday).

Please bear in mind that this is a totally unedited rough draft. Sorry for any references that don’t make sense out of context. 

Hours later, as we filter out into the watery sunlight, Leece finds me. I recognize the violet layered gown she wears as the one I liked best from the Tiny Frock mock-ups. She’s had it readjusted though, with mauve wrappers at the arms and bodice that serve to make it both beautiful and warm. The ever-present white quilted jacket, which by all right should have made the effect gawky, instead makes it entirely original. Her increasingly haunted face does nothing to detract from this. She looks dazzling.

I don’t say this though. Instead I say, ‘We couldn’t afford a new gown this year. My brothers grew too much and needed new things.’

‘You should have said something. I would have given you one of mine.’

‘It’s too cold for any decent Mayfair dresses anyway,’ I say, and immediately regret it.

Leece is unruffled. ‘You did a lovely job today. Your solo piece was extraordinary, truly.’

‘It was only two lines.’

‘Oh, but they are the most beautiful lines of the whole song. And I’ve never heard anyone perform them that way. It felt like dancing.’

‘Well,’ a flush creeps under my collarbone and I try to resist the urge to scratch it. ‘I practiced a lot.’

‘Gia,’ she says, and stops walking, pulls my hand and leads me away from the flow of bodies moving toward the market fairway, where the celebration is tuning up. ‘I need to ask you something. A favor.’

‘What is it?’ I say warily. Her hand is sweaty. She drops mine and licks her lips, glancing sideways. We’re in a natural alcove created by a stand of lullapple trees. The lush buds which had burst into blossom over the past few days look stunted and shocked from the chill.

‘This isn’t usually done.’

I’m intrigued but I force myself to act nonchalant. ‘OK.’

‘You know tomorrow is Assignment day.’

I hadn’t known. Of course I know Mayfair marks the beginning of Sieve season. But I’ve never paid attention to this particular part of it. It seems like I’ve learned more about the Sieve in the past month than I gleaned from an entire lifetime. How blind have I been all these years?

‘OK,’ I repeat, feeling stupid.

‘I need you to get my assignment for me. Please.’

‘What?’ I couldn’t have been more shocked if she’d walked up and licked my face. ‘Am I even allowed to do that?’

‘Well…it isn’t the usual way of doing things, it’s true,’ her eyes skirt sideways. ‘But it’s not totally unprecedented. The Guide states that if a White Walker is prevented by earnest affairs from receiving his or her target assignment, a proxy may be appointed to receive the scroll.’

‘What earnest affair is preventing you?’ fire rises in my gut, sizzling the words on my tongue. This business has been eating our entire lives for weeks. When will we have peace? Haven’t I laid enough at this altar?

‘I…I can’t tell you.’

I stare flatly. ‘You want me to pick up your scroll – which is not ever done – and you can’t tell me why?’

‘I’m so sorry Gia. I promise I’ll tell you when I can.’ Apology shimmers off her like a road throwing heat. It’s absolutely suffocating.

‘Alright. Fine, yes.’

‘Yes?’

‘Didn’t you hear, yes!’ I have to get out of here. I feel dangerous. My fingers curl and stretch of their own accord. ‘Tell me what I have to do.’

Then she does.

All of you out there doing writing projects – it ain’t easy, is it? [she says, wiping away beads of sweat].

But despite the bruising and the sweating and the nightly crises of self-doubt, I’ve kind of been enjoying my time off from involvement in a production. P and I are planning a trip to Harry Potter World in early December (HELLZ YEAH) and I’m headed to the beach next week (HELLZ YEAH²), where I plan to huddle on a mermaid-looking rock wrapped in a blanket guzzling my decaf and write. like. crazy. I’ve even been doing a little cooking at home (don’t look so shocked) and will share an easy recipe in time for T-gizzle.

And not to worry, the stage is in store for the near future. I’m all lined up for my next gig in February, playing Alice in the stage version of Closer. Yep, it’s the stripper part, which should surprise absolutely zero people considering my track record of playing prostitutes and other morally bankrupt characters (is it the red hair?).

alice

Alice is considerably closer to 20 than Janie is, so this holiday season I will be accepting gift cards for Juvederm and Botox. Kthanks bai.

At least this one has deep, deep layers. Mark your calendars for February 9 – 26!

Put on That Red Light

26 Oct

 

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Self-marketing. It kind of leaves a bad taste in the mouth, no? Yet as anyone who has ever interviewed for any job ever knows, you forego that skill at your own peril. This is especially true of any kind of artist, because you are your commodity. And if you don’t sell yourself, nobody’s going to do it for you.

Last week I happened to get an invitation to an online survey from my alma mater college of the arts. They wanted to know, among other things, how prepared was I for a career in the arts?

Well, let’s see.

Ability to problem solve and analyze? Check.

Thorough knowledge and practice of performance technique? Check.

Interpersonal skills that enable you to look people in the eye and make coherent and intelligent things come out of your mouth at the same time? Check and check (most days).

Self Marketing skills?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alas, other than a fuzzy working definition of “networking” that boiled down to a mental picture of well dressed, cocktail-holding people standing around name-dropping at one another, I really had no good understanding at age 22 of how to sell myself.

My post-grad certificate from the School of Hard Knocks has shored up my education considerably, but even so, I sometimes find myself in the thoroughly uncomfortable position of figuring out how to make one success translate into another.

After Unified auditions in March, I wrote thank you notes to the auditors, including a note about my upcoming projects. It took way too long to do it – I don’t mean the 6-7 lady-hours of doing handwritten notes, I mean the fact that I wasn’t getting around to it until June. True, the hot iron I ought to have been proverbially striking was closer to lukewarm, considering the heinous disaster that was my vocal audition, but still.

And then we come to today. Due to circumstances that have nothing to do with talent and working relationships and everything to do with schedules and the fact that I live in Atlanta where a ten-mile trip takes an hour and a half, I will not be doing the choreography project that I usually do in the winter time slot. It’s a bummer because I am so hard-core in love with the prospect of choreographing right now.

I have a generalized feeling that I should be hustling but am not really sure how to go about it. In the meantime, I’m starting a serious writing project this fall – more on that later – and I have an acting gig on the horizon and a possible directing gig later in the spring. In the meantime I’ll be picking up dance classes when I can.

So if you happen to know anyone who is looking for a good choreographer, send them my way. I’ll be the surly-looking chick at Chocolatte who just spilled decaf on her laptop wearing this tag.

 

So what do you think – is self-promotion a dirty word? What have you done to sell yourself lately?

Peel me an Onion – The Brave New World of Directing

27 Jul

Tomorrow begins the last weekend of Onion Man Production’s July Lakeside plays, the second of three 10-minute play festivals produced in their new space in Chamblee. I’m especially connected to this set though, because it was my first foray into directing.

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Don’t have the production photos yet – so enjoy this shot I snuck during dress rehearsal.

You really can’t ask for a better way to get your feet wet on anything new in theatre than a short play. The elements of the set were already in place as prescribed by the parameters of play submission, so I really go to focus on coaching the acting. I was also lucky to get a very well written piece by Arika Larson – a family drama with the unlikely name of “SodaPop.”

I couldn’t be more proud of the actors in my show, Jerry Jobe and Crystal Robertson. With things like new work showcases, so much depends on who you get for auditions. I ended up with two folks who are crazy-talented, super easy to work with, and can take direction like nobody’s business. Which is good because half the time I didn’t know what I was trying to say (and the other half of the time I was probably saying it annoyingly).

I’m very happy with the way it turned out, and it’s been an audience favorite every night (which is saying a lot for a heavy drama dealing with dead pets and missing children). If you’re in the Atlanta area, do yourself a favor and come see the show. These guys deserve a good audience and you deserve a good time. Thursday – Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 3:00, tickets at onionmanproductions.com. Tell them I sent you for the industry discount!

And now for something entirely different – in the August set of Lakeside Plays, I’ll be directing a show about a man and a talking fish. So that should be fun.

See you at the lake!

 

This is How We do It

7 Jul

For anyone who’s ever wondered what it’s like choreographing with a little kid, I submit:

Not sure who is having a harder time here.

Stay Classy: Three Performance Courses to Take in Atlanta

1 Jun

The serious professional in any industry knows the importance of continuing education, and artists are no exception. But after an entire college education in theatre performance, in everything from storytelling to Shakespeare to sketch (not to mention dance from kindergarten), you can get a little over going to class. For a considerable amount of time, I rested on my educational laurels, relegating my training to the school of hard knocks that performing in real time affords (which let me tell you – are neither small nor few).

But earlier this year it struck me that after *cough* years out of college, it might be time to brush off the books. I had just finished a writing project and a large production, and had only a small choreography project going for the winter. So when my friend M asked if I wanted to join her in an acting class, the time seemed ripe. After that I was having so much fun I didn’t want to stop.

So for any of you who may have a gap in your schedule and are looking for something to sharpen the tools in your box, check out my review of the following classes around town.

The Alliance Theatre Education Program

The Skinny: Befitting the regional mecca of theatre that it is, the Alliance offers the most comprehensive set of classes, serving all levels and all ages.  They’re also probably the most traditional. For adults, classes are offered in three levels: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I took the intermediate class, which at four weeks is the shortest and least expensive course. Each level covers slightly different material; intermediate level is a scene study.

Who to expect: People from related industries with limited acting training. Business people who want to break out their shell. People who Googled “become an actor” last week.

What to expect: There are several instructors employed in this program, all qualified and experienced. The instruction is more or less from the classic Stanislavsky-Chekovian school. There is a small formal lecture component so bring a notebook and pencil (or a camera to snap the whiteboard). You will do some actor-y warmups – nothing too off-the-wall, but it involves yoga so don’t wear a skirt. The course will be spent applying the lecture concepts to a short two-person scene from a classic stage work (ours was Glass Menagerie, and yep, you have to memorize it). Be prepared to find a new scene partner after your original one ghosts the class (adaptability! it’s a skill).

My favorite part: Although I’d already covered most of the ground with my degree, there was one neat technique we learned in the very last class that involved using physical hot spots in the body to reflect various emotional centers (head, heart, and groin). It’s a handy shortcut for when you get the nebulous “can you try it another way?” in an audition. As dancers M and I could really get down with the kinetic aspect.

Tip: Take the free intro workshop first – not only will it give you a sense of whether this is what you’re looking for, but you’ll also get a discount code to use when signing up for a full course. Details and info.

Meisner Foundation at Pinch n’ Ouch

The Skinny: Pinch n’ Ouch, named after a core concept of the Meisner technique, is a tiny professional theatre that presents edgy contemporary works. The Artistic Director, Grant McGowen has fingers in multiple pies including video production and headshot photography – and of course, teaching. Meisner was a school of acting I’d heard of but never studied, so when Grant suggested I audit during our headshot sesh in January I was all about it.  PNO offers other classes in film acting and scene study but the Foundations class is a required prerequisite unless you’re already a working Meisner actor.

Who to expect: Film actors who want to get into stage, stage actors who want to get into film, people who have met Grant personally through other avenues (the dude’s guerilla marketing strategy is on point).

What to expect: Bring a pencil and paper here too, but only to capture tidbits from Grant’s non-linear notes given after chunks of activity. You’ll spend the first several classes of the 12-week program working on variations of one single exercise – the basis (foundation? ha) for more advanced work. The commitment is pretty extensive – the class itself is three hours long, and you’ll be asked to get together with classmates outside of class time for 2-3 hours of practice. Many actors don’t care for the Meisner technique, and PNO isn’t the only shop in town offering it, so you’ll hear mixed reviews. Personally I found it helpful and interesting, and also very challenging. If nothing else, it’s another tool to have in your kit.

What I love: The Meisner technique is excellent for the overly analytical actor (hello, Stanislavsky training) because it’s all about getting out of your own head and focusing on pure reaction to a partner. (By the same token, if you’re more of the instinctual actor you might benefit more from Chekhov). You don’t even use written material. I also love that the PNO circle is very cozy, but not in an exclusive way. You’ll be welcomed in to this little community with open arms.

Tip: Even though the time commitment is huge, don’t let it scare you off. Grant knows many of his students are working professionals and allows you to make up missed classes in other sessions. Details and info.

Listen Up! Audio Narration

The Skinny: If you’re looking for something a little bit different (and a lot less emphasizing on physical type or ability), you could do a lot worse than this series on audiobook narration. Audiobooks are a huge market right now, and we have a little share of that pie right here in Atlanta.

What to Expect: The class is half lecture half experiential, and the small class size affords ample time to practice and ask questions. Bring a mobile device to read your practice sides. You will go on-mic and read a short piece, but try to get past the actual sound of your voice – it’s totally not the point. The focus is all about giving life to the story – acting through the voice. You’ll be learning what makes people late for work sitting in their car listening to a book.

What I Love: I’ve been wanting to get into audiobook narration since I first visited a studio during a Maymester in NYC my senior year. I’m good at cold reading (my primary audition skill), I have an acting and storytelling background, and I love books. As I found out during class, there’s more to it than that, but in a way…there’s also not. You don’t even need to be an actor or have an NPR-worthy voice to be a good narrator. My mom, who has never performed a day in her life, even came with me to the last class and knocked it out of the park! (Guess where my reading and storytelling skrills came from?).

Tip: This set of courses can be taken a la carte but there’s a small discount for purchasing all four as a package. If you don’t take all four, there is still a discount code available for signing up for the next in the series. Also good to note: these classes are NOT offered on a consistent and regular basis – it’s up to the discretion and schedule of the instructors – so if you see the class come up, jump on it quick!  Details and info. 

In addition to these, I also picked back up on voice lessons where my vocal therapist left off. I’m fortunate to be working with the fabulous and lovable Lyn Taylor. Lyn has done considerable work with youth and schools, which means her teaching style is right up my alley – broken down into small chunks and explained in five different ways with vivid imagery and a heaping helping of encouragement. But make no mistake, this lady really knows her stuff, and is super organized too boot (think lesson plans and recorded warmups). Vocal coaching is a very personal thing, depending on your needs and your level, but in general I recommend finding someone who can a) play the piano well, and b) has a good ear. Because those two things are nearly impossible to do for yourself when you’re training your voice. Everything else really just depends. I’m well on my way to getting my voice whipped back into shape, hopefully in time for some fall auditions! Lyn doesn’t have a website, but if you want to know more email me at cushioncut at gmail dot com.

Taking class is a great way to experiment; to get out of your comfort zone without the high stakes a tight timelines of an actual performance. It gives you rooms to stretch your legs, both figuratively, and in the case of dance classes, literally. Things are picking back up for the summer (choreography rehearsals for my next project, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at OnStage Atlanta, started this week!) so alas, I may not get another golden opportunity to indulge for a while. But if you have the time (and the funds,  WAH for all time) do yourself a favor and get in a course or two, or at least a workshop. You won’t regret it!

Keep it classy, friends.

Why I Quit Coffee Part III: Wrap Up

6 Nov

 

Hard to believe, but it has now been two months since I had any significant amount of caffeine.

Considering what a packed few weeks it’s been, with rehearsals and work projects and holidays and social obligations–two months without caffeine is not insignificant.

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So how am I doing?

Short answer: better.

As I write this, I’m nodding off over my keyboard. But that’s because we’re coming to the end of tech week, b.k.a. hell week, for Guys & Dolls (get your tickets now, Atlanta folks!).  Before this week, I felt like the pall of fatigue that had hung over my head like my own personal Eeyore-style rain cloud was finally lifting.

The overwhelming hunger I experienced at first has abated as well. I’ve even managed to trim down a bit for the show. Which is amazing, considering I haven’t exercised much beyond dance at rehearsals.

GI Janie

So that’s the symptoms of withdrawal taken care of. What about the GI symptoms for which I embarked on this epic journey in the first place?

I am happy to report that the nausea and stomach pain is completely gone. That’s probably the most significant development. The heartburn is practically gone too. I haven’t taken a Rolaid or a Pepcid in weeks. The bloating is considerably improved (although to be fair, I’ve also dropped white carbs in the interest of aforementioned “trimming down”). The wet burping, the fluttering in my chest, the lump in my throat–all have shown marked improvement, if not abated entirely. I do still occasionally get a dry cough, but it’s hard to point at that as a gastrointestinal indicator when there’s ragweed saturating the air.

Sing Out, Louise

I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats wondering whether I’ve recovered my beautiful singing voice HA. The answer there is not quite as brief.

Suspecting that the caffeine issue couldn’t entirely explain it, I made an appointment with the specialists at the Emory Clinic Voice Center. We are fortunate to have here in Atlanta an enormously vast medical network. Got some obscure problem? There’s a app doc for that.

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I was lucky that they were able to squeeze me in quicker than anticipated–my initial appointment was during that first week of tapering off. I wondered if this would hide or highlight any damage to ye olde singing parts.

A thorough examination of my vocal chords revealed…

That they were perfect.

This should have been good news, but I was bummed. It meant that I couldn’t blame the many issues I was having with my voice on physical (outside) factors. In other words, I was singing wrong.

A follow up appointment with vocal therapist Marina Gilman  revealed that I wasn’t just a shit singer. Even though I had no visible acid damage (further proof that I never had GERD in the first place), past acute “acid incidents” (her words) had led to my compensating in a damaging way. Kind of like when you say, pull a muscle and then strain the surrounding muscles favoring it. And like a muscle injury, what I needed was a course of rehab.

Over a series of sessions Marina gave me some vocal and breath exercises to help relax the wrong muscles and work the right ones. She also affirmed that, according to the clinical assessment of my voice structure, I really should be singing soprano and not alto. It was all stuff I already knew from previous training, but the reminder was key–and, unlike voice lessons–billable to insurance.

Since then I’ve seen vast improvement in the pain and strain while speaking, and to some extent while singing as well. I still have quite a ways to go in this regard though, and I’m trying not to be too frustrated with my progress (apparently you can’t undo six years of muscle damage in four sessions). I think I will have to spring for voice lessons on top of the coaching eventually, if I ever want to achieve solo status again.

I’ve Learned to Live Without You, Darling

I still take exceeding comfort in a hot drink or five, especially with the dreary weather we’ve been experiencing. So I’ve been drinking lots of Teeccino, a little hot cocoa, and even hot tea. I’m really loving Teeccino. Unlike coffee, the different flavors taste nice, not just smell good. Unlike coffee, it tastes good cold or reheated (meaning that that half pot not drunk first thing in the AM doesn’t go to waste). But unfortunately, unlike coffee, it is somewhat caloric (about 20 calories in a 10 oz cup brewed–I usually drink a classic 12-oz) and when you add as much cream as I like (about four tablespoons at 25-35 calories per tbsp ), you’re looking at a heavy appetizer’s worth of energy. So I can’t really pound it like I am sometimes tempted to on a long, chilled day.

A better replacement choice is hot tea, but I had a problem with it at first. My fellow coffee fiends will know what I’m talking about when I say the taste, feel, smell, richness—it’s just not the same. In the way that avid tea drinkers don’t enjoy coffee as much, tea is simply not my daily jam.

Plus, until recently, I really only liked the taste of black tea–which of course, has caffeine. So does green. I don’t like chamomile, peppermint, lemon, or any kind of fruit flavor in herbal tea. That basically wipes out 95% of teas on your average grocery shelf. Then I discovered Rooibos. A red “tea” that grows in South Africa, it’s a bit more pricey than the average, but doubtless I spend way less on it than I once did on coffee. Plus Yogi makes a nice Chai variety, which has a complex and full-bodied taste and the benefit of the healthy spices used in chai flavoring while being naturally caffeine free.

What about decaf, you say? At first I shunned coffee entirely, trying to lose the taste hankering I had for it. Eventually I did begin to treat myself to a cup of decaf when out to breakfast, or occasionally at the daily coffee hours at work. Decaf is not great in and of itself, first of all because coffee is still acidic which contributes to many of my problems, secondly because decaf labeling is highly unregulated in the US and can vary widely, and thirdly because the process used to decaffeinate most drinks uses chemicals (although nontoxic apparently, and with better taste results than the more “natural” but much more expensive and rare method of water decaffeination). Not to mention many decaf coffees, including the kind they serve at work, taste gross. But the fact is, I can never give up treating myself to the occasional happy Starbucks raspberry mocha. So decaf will continue to be drunk by this lady.

So….does all this mean it’s true: I’m allergic to caffeine?

I really don’t think so. If I had a true allergy, or even a sensitivity, I don’t think I could have been drinking as much coffee as I have for as long as I did with any level of comfort. The fact that it took 7 years to pinpoint the issue is proof alone. Who knows? I might even resume coffee drinking one day. But you can be damn sure it’s going to be a lot less. I think the lesson we can take away from this is that anything you use as a crutch to function–running the gamut from heavy drugs and alcohol to gossiping to chewing gum to running marathons to spicy food to binge watching Netflix–has the potential to be damaging both physiologically and psychologically.

In the wise and oft-repeated words of my Granny: Everything in Moderation.

So. What’s your addiction?

Why I Quit Coffee Part II: How I went from seven to zero cups of coffee in 5 days

15 Oct

The day my doctor told me to try giving up caffeine to relieve my GI and vocal symptoms, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I mean, I knew caffeine is an addictive substance. I knew also that quitting such a substance would produce real, physical withdrawal symptoms.

I knew it would be hard. But I didn’t think it would be that hard. My little bro (the one with h pylori) gives up coffee periodically just to make sure he can. He doesn’t like the idea of being dependent on anything outside himself. So it’s clearly possible. Of course, I never asked him how long these coffee-free periods last.

I decided against cold turkey. I’m not a glutton for punishment.  I didn’t really have a plan to taper off, but I knowing me, if I planned too much I wouldn’t get around to actually doing it, so I dove right in. With the information here, if you ever have to (or want to) give up coffee, perhaps you can make a plan of your own.

Note: if you don’t want to read through the nitty-gritty, you can skip to The Takeaway at the bottom.

The First Day

I woke up a little under the weather, another attack of the upper respiratory crap/fall allergies. This would normally suck balls, but in this case was sort of a blessing. I usually don’t even feel like drinking coffee when I have postnasal drip.

So I began the day with a small cup of hot chai tea and honey. Black tea contains caffeine, but not as much as coffee, especially if you don’t have a tumbler of it. I spent the morning intermittently working on projects and researching this so-called caffeine allergy.

tea

I don’t always enjoy colds. But when I do, it’s when I’m trying to quit caffeine.

By 11:00, it was clear one cup would not do. I didn’t have a headache, at least not yet. But I felt very groggy. I made another cup of tea with honey. Something else would be necessary.

Meditation! That would be so totally zen of me. I’d found this Binaural Beat Meditation a few weeks before I’d been wanting to try out. (I sort of got into meditation after reading this book). Plus I had these two tea bags! I could put them on my eyes and lay on the couch (lotus position is for suckers). Because that’s another thing–I’d been noticing lately that I had visible pouches under my eyes all the time, regardless of how much sleep I’d gotten. I suddenly remembered that they can be caused by allergies. You mean…like caffeine allergies?

In the later part of the afternoon, I developed a bit of a headache. I was fully expecting it so it was no surprise. What I wasn’t prepared for was the tiredness–the absolutely bone crushing fatigue I felt the whole afternoon. Also, I was starving. I kept snacking on little things every hour–a piece of cheese, a strip of roast chicken, a cup of strawberry yogurt, hummus on a cracker. I chalked it up to the bit of nasal sumpin’ sumpin’ I had going on.

I was so tired and cruddy I couldn’t manage my daily workout. I tried to imagine that the zen I was getting from the binaural beats was, in its own way, just as good for my body–which was clearly involved in some kind of battle at the moment. I crashed into a dark stupor after two pages of reading around 11 PM.

Day 2

The next morning I still felt a little cruddy. Thus it was difficult to determine whether the dull headache pulsing against my skull was from withdrawal or sinuses. Trying to head it off at the pass, I had my first cup of black tea as soon as I arrived at the office with my breakfast, and the second shortly after.

The headache persisted quietly. I began craving coffee, like, the actual taste of the drink, in the late afternoon too. But it was nothing compared to the hunger. Within less than two hours of eating, the pangs would return.

I did some deep stretching in the evening along with a huge glass of white wine. I felt I deserved it.

Day 3

The third day was a Saturday, PRAISE. Until now I’d been avoiding coffee entirely–even though my doc said switching to decaf would serve the purpose fine–because I was really curious about whether caffeine or coffee was the true culprit. Anyway, we know that decaf still contains some caffeine. But this morning I broke down and had a mug of decaf Starbucks with cream. It was divine.

Later that afternoon my throat burned and I felt extremely bloated. But it was hard to tell if it was from the decaf, or from the postnasal drip, or from the huge decked-out froyo I had for lunch. I tried to drink extra water but I’m here to tell you–water is not coffee.

Day 4

This was the first day of trying an entirely new hot drink substitute: Teeccino.

teeccino

Teeccino is billed as an herbal coffee alternative. It’s completely caffeine free, non-acidic and allegedly nutritious. It’s even supposed to give you a natural energy boost, but without the stimulant effect. The reviews on Amazon were pretty good so I ordered one pack to try it out.  I purchased the vanilla flavor, but only because that was the only one sold in a single pack. I didn’t want to commit to something I might not like.

You put it through your regular machine like coffee. It looks quite a bit like coffee when brewed. It smells nothing like coffee. The taste? Well, it’s hard to describe. It’s full bodied, definitely sweeter than coffee, which makes sense since because what isn’t? It’s rather nutty overall. But it’s not at bit like tea, which is what comes to mind when you hear the word “herbal.” My first impression was that a) it would take some getting used to, but b) I could definitely get used to it.

The only real caffeine I had was a few swallows of P’s sweet tea. We went white water rafting in the afternoon, which as it turns out, is a great distraction from headaches, hunger, bloating, or anything else that ails you.

I went to bed very tired.

Day 5

For the fifth day in a row, I was starving. I began to suspect that my body, so used to be sustained with caffeinated glory, was looking for a replacement energy source. The Teeccino was slowly growing on me. I was able to work in some squats and planks in addition to my deep stretching (I’m finally set on achieving my splits, now that I’m in my 30s–as if one lofty goal wasn’t enough).

We had a work reception that day and I mentioned to a group of people that I’d gone off caffeine, and they all took a step back like I might bite them. So are you super irritable? They asked. I stared back at them dully. I wasn’t grumpy–that would take way too much energy.

I fell into bed utterly exhausted, about 30 minutes earlier than usual. I didn’t realize until the next day that it was my first day completely and totally caffeine-free.

The Takeaways

Decaf, sigh…just not quite the same.

So what can you expect if you decide to break your own caffeine habit?

  1. The headache is not bad. If you taper off instead of going cold turkey, and replace your coffee intake with another liquid (even icky water), headache shouldn’t be a problem. I’m almost certain that what little headache I did experience was the result of having a cold.
  2. You will miss coffee. Make no mistake. no matter what sub you use: decaf, herbal tea, hot cocoa, or my new fave Teeccino–this is like breaking up with a good friend. And like a break up, every time you accidentally run into each other it will be a little painful.
  3. You will be starving. Lock up the Doritos and gelato and stock your pantry with healthy, filling foods that you can grab quickly, like nuts, beans, bagged salads, avocado, popcorn, hummus, peanut butter, protein shakes, whatever your thing is–because the hunger machine is coming and it’s sucking up everything in reaching distance. If you drink your coffee with cream and sugar, expect the sweet tooth to come out swinging as well.
  4. You will be tired. I think the thing that surprised me the most in that first week was realizing how heavily I leaned on caffeine for daily energy. I have never felt so tired in all my life, and I’ve had walking pneumonia. It ranged from being a little slow on the uptake to all out head-on-the-desk sleepiness. And, as you will see in the next installment, this symptom lasted the longest.