Personal renewal starts at 5 a.m., just don't forget the coffee

Quest for personal renewal leads @erskinetimes to 5 a.m. wake-ups and a search for the Big Idea

So I am in my second week of getting up too early; 5 a.m. some days. Staring back from the mirror at that hour is a bushy-browed James Whitmore, the avuncular family man from "Guns of the Magnificent Seven." Who knew personal renewal could be such a shootout?

Fortunately, I received $3,200 worth of coffee gift cards for Christmas, a sign of our times. I am always impressed by the Big Idea, and to think of all the coffee shop owners throughout history, up like me before the sun, grinding, brewing, barely making ends meet. Then one day, some madman decides to make coffee as you would a milkshake — filling the cup with sugar, whipped cream, chocolate bars and every other known confection, and BOOM! ... Starbucks, Coffee Bean, et al. Next thing you know I have $3,200 in coffee gift cards in my wallet, the biggest financial asset in my portfolio.

Oh, what an overly caffeinated holiday apocalypse we had. The girls bickered and the boys bongoed on each other — the usual. The best gift: a late-afternoon Christmas hike with the kids, just before one of them flew off to the heartland. My heart grew three sizes that day, another sign of personal renewal.

Speaking of renewal, Posh returned from her three-day New Orleans trip with a heavy Cajun accent. At first, I thought she'd suffered a stroke, then realized her speech had been corrupted by flirting with too many New Orleans street cops. Evidently, her rejuvenating journey went very well. Laissez les bon temps rouler.

My own quest for personal renewal is more subtle. It involves waking up earlier, as discussed in a recent column, after I realized that many of my buddies — at least the overtly successful ones, the ones who drive oversized BMWs and smugly park them on my lawn — all wake up at 5 in the *&$^#!%*&%$ morning.

It was a holiday epiphany, this waking up extra early, though what I would do with the additional time was a mystery. Go out for 60 cups of coffee? Fight for a treadmill in the busy, post-holiday gym?

Strangely, I did none of these. I wrote, which is something I've done many times before. I wrote.

I write early and often, and occasionally to great effect, though not nearly often enough. Even a blind pig finds an acorn of truth once in a while. Keeping at it is most of the battle. Men rarely fail; they merely quit.

I tell that to aspiring writers all the time, that writers usually fail because they give up on themselves. I also tell them that writing is a muscle, and you have to jump on that treadmill every chance you get. I've always been very blue-collar about writing. Get up, get at it. Assemble words as you would a large, delicious drink.

So in the spirit of new things, I now rise before the sun butters the horizon, seeking the next Big Idea.

To date, all I've come up with are retirement strategies. The best, and most hopeful, is to pinball around the country, stopping in towns along the way. Kuralt meets Kerouac.

I'd travel by foot, or by mule, or occasionally by canoe. I'd stay in each place a week, and at the end of it, I'd write a letter to the editor of the town's paper giving my impressions:

Dear editor,

Think it was Ibsen who said a community is like a ship, and everyone should be prepared to take the helm. So for a week now, I have studied your fair village and come to the conclusion that your shipmates are completely and gloriously nuts. Some certifiably so. But good souls, mostly. That woman over at the library has a nice way about her; I think her name is Marsha. She lived for a while in New York and was glad to get out ("The people there could be soooo abrupt"). Now she is back, and Marsha makes this fair town even fairer. If you ever want the truth about something, just ask Marsha.

Aside from her, you have a remarkable and fetching little hamlet, marked by the faint body odor of hobbits. I blame most of your problems here on poorly timed stoplights and the lack of a first-rate vineyard. But there are other reasons, both geographic and psychotropic. Many of your townsfolk simply sleep too late. Let me explain ...

When finished, I'd drop the letter at the newspaper office and move on to the next little American town, hemmed in lilacs, oaks and Wal-Mart vapor lights.

Wandering around telling the truth may not be my best Big Idea. But, hey, it's a new year. Give me a little time.

Twitter: @erskinetimes

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