My life in liquid: beverages I have known, loved and exploited

Beverages have represented different things to me at various times in my life, and I find that my drink preferences can be easily broken down into clearly defined eras, each with its own, distinctive needs. Those needs were not always satiated, but boy, it didn’t stop me from trying using whatever was sloshing around in my glass.

Dairy damsel: the early years

Like most children, I drank cows’ milk. But growing up in Wisconsin, the land of milk and cheese, I drank it constantly — with meals and in-between. I lived a stone’s-throw from a number of dairy farms, and my local high school ran a yearly “bring your tractor to school day” for the Future Farmers of America students. The dairy farm nearest to my home also had veal cows penned right up against the road, where everyone could see. I saw tethered, baby veal cows most days of my first eighteen years of life.

During my childhood and adolescence, rBGH — also known as “recombinant bovine growth hormone” — was plentiful, unregulated, and pumped into milk at a record rate. I was consuming a great ton of milk then, and now I have a milkmaid figure and endometriosis. Just kidding — I’m sure neither is related. I hope.

A fish called Wanda: the boozy years

I was already a few years into sewing my recreational oats via other substances when something as unremarkable as alcohol began subverting it’s way into my repertoire with increasing rotations. I accessed it by the typical, teenage avenues at my disposal because I was eighteen; an age sometimes quite crudely referred to as “not old enough to drink, but old enough to swallow.” Soon I was chasing the day when I’d be able to down liquor that was not stolen, swindled, or combined from the ends of other people’s discarded drinks. In the meantime, I decided that drinking something I had just picked cigarette butts out of was part of my charm, and became a scavenger-goat for alcohol — a remora and bottom-feeder feasting on the booze scraps that of-age sharks had lost track of or left behind. When I had a choice or had convinced some poor sod to buy the man’s-ruin-fluid on my behalf, I opted for Bud Light, leaving me more calories for food, or Mad Dog, leaving me more money for things like gasoline and film developing. (These were the days before digital cameras.) By the time I moved on to straight vodka, whiskey and rum, I was almost old enough to buy it myself.

Eventually the way that I was drinking became less endearingly ribald and more… abject. So now I buy alcohol only infrequently, and then opt for indie beer with fancy labels, like a good little hipster. Although I will say that Idler music columnist and good buddy Mike Vincent recently turned me on to Dogfish brand beer, which is a slice of beer-heaven.

Working stiff: the retail years

So. Much. Coffee. This is when espresso finally made it to the midwest, so in fueling my lowly bookstore-assistant-manager positions, I graduated from giant, refillable styrofoam McDonald’s coffees to caffeine-loaded froo-froo drinks that came in matte, brown cups with the little corrugated condom-jackets. Somewhere along the way I switched back to plain black coffee again which was 1.) free at the independent bookstore I finally ended up at, and 2.) low-calorie, to correspond with the eating disorder I had developed not long after I stopped drinking like a sad lounge-singer.

In mid-high school, putting sugar and cream in my truck stop coffee like a silly, innocent teenager had been part of the fun in drinking it while I sat across from my friend Kelly Howlett (who is now a painter and teacher), agreeing that being part of a creative community like the Beats would be totally swell. Cream and sugar lost their allure around the same time food did, and even though I now eat like a regular lady, I never really regained my taste for sweetened coffee. I still like my coffee black and bitter like a punch in the face — a reminder of where I came from, and the things I was forced to abandon to survive. Leave me my bitter coffee, oh irresponsiblity and excess, for you have already robbed me of so much.

Today and tonight: the writing years

The combination of a slipshod lifestyle, a slavish debt to old demons, inherited predispositions and a wussy constitution has left me with rather cry-baby adrenals at age 34. I still drink coffee, but it’s a dysfunctional relationship to encourage. If I drink it, I don’t sleep. In fact, it’s 7:45 a.m. as I write this, and I haven’t been to bed yet tonight (uh, this morning?). I even took a little Rx downer at midnight to help motivate me to become tired, but I’m afraid that’s worn off now since it’s only supposed to last about six hours. Staying up all night to work is all too tempting when it’s work you care about, and when the words are coming easily like a new lover who thinks you’re something special.

When I am being responsible, I drink tea. It’s the perfect balance to give me enough pep to avoid passing out into my soup like a blitzed Montgomery Clift, but not so much that I stay up until eight a.m. trying to write my way out of whatever box I imagine I’m in. Fortunately, I love tea. When I was writing my novel Basajaun, I would drink a pot of green tea steadily throughout the day, and it kept me literarily lubricated and balanced, yet muted enough to remain still and produce. I view green tea as magical writing elixir, but for it to function effectively, I have to go into the day fresh, having slept the night before. That’s the bit that’s the stickler. When it gives you temporary results, it’s all too easy to pump your body with delicious, face-punching black coffee all for the sake of accomplishing work or avoiding the night. For Winkin’, Blikin’ and Nod — those rogue denizens of sleep — may not be as friendly when you’re heavily caffeinated.

Rosemary Van Deuren is the author of the young adult fantasy novel, Basajaun. View more of her fiction and essays at You can also be Rosemary’s friend on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @rosemaryvan.

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  1. […] just really adore tea. A lot. I have already explained this quite sleazily in my 2011 Idler column My life in liquid: beverages I have known, loved and exploited, but the short version is: in addition to balls-out loving the taste of tea (pure and bitter, with […]

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