Best Offices – I mean – Coffee Shops in Atlanta

I work in a lot of different offices. Correction: I work in a lot of different coffee shops around the city. There are other people at coffee shops who are working, and for someone who sets her own schedule most of the time, this is motivating. I decide where to work at based on my mood (and budget). A delicate combination of prices, WiFi strength, outlet availability, and general ambiance/mood is how I picked my favorite spots. I’ve been to a lot of different coffee shops and deciding which ones are the best in Atlanta comes down to how much time I’ve spent there.

The only two criteria I mention are price range and MARTA accessibility, since those are my first considerations when I am picking where to work for the day. Given that I am not exactly a thriving freelance writer or *insert career here* yet I have to pay careful attention to the amount I am spending in my offices every week. So read on to learn about some coffee shops with $1.50 tea as well as some places with steeper java and tea prices but whose general ambiance I find worth it.

So let’s go to office #1 on my list:

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Javamonkey in downtown Decatur

This place has become me second living room. It is also somewhat set up like a living room with two couches, several smaller round tables, and two walls of counter space. This means there are lots of cozy corners to settle into and work. The outlets along the counters are plentiful but it can be a little harder to access the outlets behind the couches. My favorite thing about this place? Great $1-3 loose-leaf tea. Some of my favorite teas to have are: Tangerine-Ginger green tea and Peach Blosson white tea. Right next to the Decatur MARTA station.

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photo: Joe Miceli Photography

Chrome Yellow Trading Co. on Edgewood Ave.

This place feels as if Instagram’s coffee pages all in one spot and you were inside it. It has great decor and great aesthetics. My favorite thing about this place is that I can focus for long periods of time. The natural lighting that comes in from the large windows as well as multiple skylights make it an airy space to get work done and be inspired. The larger round and rectangular tables are great for group meetings and work. This place is a little pricier, with tea costing $4-6, so I don’t go here every day but it’s definitely my first consideration if I really need a clean, streamlined, creative space to work in. It kind of feels like a co-working space with great interior design. This place is a 15 min walk from the King Memorial MARTA station.

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Ebrik Coffee House in downtown Atlanta

Get off the MARTA station at Five Points and head down a block down Decatur Street, to the left of the station, and you will find Ebrik Coffee Shop on the corner. Having recently located to this larger space on the corner of Decatur and Pryor, this coffee shop offers lots of space, decent prices at a very accessible location (for MARTA riders). The best thing about this place? It’s run by Palestinian brothers from Chicago and the people that work there are always ready to say hi and have a conversation with you. POC vibes flowing all around. The music can get a little loud and the wifi is not so strong upstairs but I find I can get a lot of work done here on more quiet days. Tea prices are $2-3. 

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Outside Condesa Coffee from http://www.condesacoffee.com

Condesa Coffee near the Old Fourth Ward

The best thing about this place is how quiet it is. Even though it is near a very busy intersection on Highland Ave, it feels tucked away behind the greenery and pleasant smell of coffee roast. This place is never too crowded, and is usually pretty quiet with lots of outlets everywhere. I also think this place has great natural lighting, something I find very important. This place is not entirely MARTA accessible but can be a good walk from the King Memorial station if you’re up for some exercise. You can also catch the 99 from King Memorial station and get there in a couple minutes. A little pricier, coffee and tea ranging from $5-6. 

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Outside Joe’s Coffee Shop, woodwork by @b10union

Joe’s Coffee Shop in East Atlanta Village

This is a great spot for meeting up with someone and having a conversation or getting some work done. It’s very cozy, with several couches, plenty of spots for getting up close and personal. They have great baked goods- try the key lime pie!! I’m sure they have great coffee but I’ve only ever tried the tea. The best part about this place is that it is covered in one of Atlanta’s most iconic artist’s work. Decent prices, $3-6. Accessible via MARTA bus on the 9 from Inman Park station. 

the futility of the straw

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When I first got to the united states, a myriad of alienating experiences would come from the most unexpected places. The funny thing about culture shock is that it manifests itself in mundane objects, minute facial expressions, redundant body language whose ordinariness to others is a neon sign of oddity for you. This morphs your perception into a sense of alienation, you feel alone for noticing what is supposed to be accepted as normal.

One can experience this kind of alienation across various spaces. From workplace to workplace, country to country, bar scene to bar scene, state to state, town to town, group of friends to group of friends, community to community, ritual to ritual, day to day, street to street. If you consider them long enough, these cardinal signs can be followed to larger trends and social constructs explaining aspects of this new culture which you might never understand organically. This is my experience of the straw.

I’m sitting at a restaurant with my new college roommate, feeling awkward as I try to figure out what we’re going to talk about. I haven’t gotten a hang of the American college-student-art of quick subject change and witty pop culture references. Still trying to understand how we covered driver’s licenses, STDs, Disney princesses in our conversation on the way here, I’m silent after the waiter has brought our drinks.

My roommate shouts “straw! straw! I need a straw!” to no one in particular, and I stop, mid-slurp, from drinking my Sprite out of the rim of the giant red plastic cup. The waiter forgot to bring us straws and our other friend at the table did not pick up her drink either. I am confused, is there something stopping them from drinking these giant beverages in front of us? Did they learn to drink differently growing up? Not out of the rim of a glass? It is not until the waiter brings the straws to our table that plastic is stripped off swiftly, expertly, and the tubes are dunked into carbon bubbles and ice. My new college friends slurp away happily on their drinks. It takes me a little longer to get the plastic off my straw and into the drink, by that time my roommate has muttered something about avoiding mouth herpes with straws and they have moved on to making jokes about how much sex each one of us will have before the end of our first semester. I am still wondering about the straws.

Of course, I had come across straws and used them before, but I did not consider them an integral part of my dining experience. I learned about the popularity and utter futility of the straw in the United States dining culture. Drinks are placed onto the table while you make a decision about your food choice, a clever staggering of service in a “to-go now” culture. In this time you also get a straw, sometimes already in the glass, but often wrapped in plastic or paper which you get to take off and dunk into your drink before slurping away like a 5-year old.. Straws are seen as such a fundamental extension of the mouth that a lot of the time people will not drink without these devices. But for all intents and purposes, straws are utterly useless.

Let’s consider the purpose of a straw: to help draw in liquid from a glass or can or juice box to the mouth without having the mouth touch the rim or lid of the container.

Now let us consider the act of drinking. The sucking of liquid that comes to us naturally from the moment we are given water, breastfed, or drinking liquified foods. We weren’t raised, for the most part, learning to drink through a straw. We form our own straws with out mouths and slurp and suck it up. No problem.

Let’s consider the functionality of a straw to drinking. It allows liquid to be slurped up faster, maybe. It allows the mouth to not touch the lid of a container that might not be as clean as the straw, maybe. It eliminates the spread of germs, maybe. The straw is used once and thrown away, allowing for the convenience of saving time, maybe.

Drinking faster is neither a necessity nor even a benefit to life. The spread of germs might be minimally countered by the use of straws if at all. Further, we are exposed to far more germs than a straw can prevent. If we are looking for convenience we already have the “genius” invention of the plastic cup with a lid fully equipped with a sipping hole to enjoy drinking on the go. Straws add very little to the functionality of a plastic cup, especially if it is engineered right. Essentially the only utility the straw provides is a false sense of security and the satisfaction of extending the oral fixation phase into adulthood, yes.

Let us consider the effect of the straw on the earth. The straw is consumed roughly three times a day by one hundred and sixty six million people every day. That is five hundred million straws used for one minute to an hour per day. Then the straw goes wherever all the other plastic stuff magically disappears to. Most of the time it  piles up on the beach or ends up on the sea in the esophagus of some marine creature. Then it becomes a killer of marine life. Consequently has a devastating effect on ecosystems around the earth and on human lives.

Now the question that always comes up is why? Why is the straw so prevalently used when it so obviously destructive? First, we might start by answering by how. The history of the straw is the answer to this. Reed straws were used in the 1950’s in the U.S. to avoid the spread of polio. Some man thought it was not convenient to use a reed straw which left residue of reed in his drink so he devised various tubes out of paper in order give himself a better experience, later patenting it. Then the revolution of the plastic instead of paper straw came about in the 70’s. Still my question is, did the popularity of the straw just naturally catch on? Was there a combination of economic and labor culture shift that induced the necessity for the straw? The question of how becomes somewhat redundant and we must then begin to ask the murky question of why.

The story of the straw tells of seeking fleeting convenience. The minuscule, very slim, amount of functionality the straw provides to the average human being’s life is nothing compared to the devastating effect of throwing away the straw and of the entire straw culture. The act of a single action as divorced from the collective consequences of multiple individuals performing that same single action over and over again in an individualist perspective. Using a straw because you haven’t grown out of your kid ego means there are 500 million adult eight-year-olds using straws while the rest of the world has to deal with their mess.

Why choose to use a straw? Sure it is one single, fleeting action that does not make a difference in the multitude of actions everyone is making everyday. Still, stop to consider how many straws you have used in the past year, 5 years, 10 years, a lifetime if you live/grew up in the U.S. That’s 5,840 straws in 10 years. Your life will not be altered significantly if you stop using straws, but on the other hand you are clearly responsible for and attached to a significant amount of straw-trash in this world. Take responsibility for the impact of your actions and consider giving up the straw.

There are numerous campaigns sparked from the same concept as my own which I was only aware of after writing this. They seek to eliminate the use of straws through individual action and through imploring restaurants, bars, and coffee shops to stop giving them to customers. None of them truly focus on the utter futility of the straw as much as the destruction of the straw. So I hope this adds some fresh perspective to why you should really #stopsucking and refuse to use the straw.

My Week with Afropunk’s Army

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Photo by @souliscrying

My week as an Afropunk volunteer made me wish it was my everyday life. For the past four days, though, it is has been and now I’m feeling like why is it so hard to accept that the party is over? Afropunk became my life in a good way, in a I’m-part-of-something- bigger-collaborating-with-people-to-realize-a-bigger-vision type of way. I mean, y’all, we built an Afropunk pop-up village in four days.

 

 

Apparently, there were around 2,000 people who signed up to volunteer for Afropunk and they chose 40 of us. At first, this seemed odd to me, why wouldn’t you want more free labor? After being a part of the whole festival production process I understand: everyone, from the core group to the production crew to the volunteers, is there because they chose to be, because they wanted to be a part of Afropunk (it’s true, I learned this from being there). They only want people there who want to be there. Not a lot of festivals are for and by black people so it’s important to have people there who support this. Ironic because I didn’t know what I was getting into at first but of course, subconsciously, I was always moving towards it.

Day 1 

I show up to the site, an empty warehouse in Mechanicsville, not knowing what to expect. I had recently left my job, so my week was free. Nothing to lose right?

I have no trouble finding the team I’m going to be working with: environmental design. Meaning I’ll be setting up the look of Afropunk… the feel if it. I see Yemi, one of the coolest volunteers turned Afropunk crew members I met, and the one who showed me the ropes, i.e. spilled some insider knowledge about how shit is run in festival production. We’re in a big empty warehouse filled with dust and trash from a previous event. Huh. This is where afropunk is gonna be? Ok, I get it, it’s grungy, but where are people gonna sit?

The first thing I get to do is sweep, what seems like mounds of dust. I try not to be too excited to be working behind the scenes- but of course I am, I live for this type of stuff. As we begin unloading a rat pack (semi-big shipping container) and a semi-truck, I see all kinds of west and south African print fabric, lights, chairs, lamps and other decorative items pile out. I realize there’s going to be a lot more to it than sweeping up a warehouse. By the end of day one I had swept the entire corner of a warehouse and stuffed more pillows and cushions than you could find in all suburbian Atlanta.

Day 2

Most of the people I have met in leadership positions of production are women of color and that inspires me. I had been out for a day for a prospective job and I am surprised at how eager I was to get back on site. By the time I came back, progress was made: the warehouse now sectioned off into different areas and the flow of space was starting to make sense. Vendors’ booths and seating was put up with chain fence, signs and artwork covered grainy walls. Fences are up, scrim lining is up, palette furniture is made (on site) and now we get to do the fun part of decorating. Adding aesthetic appeal to a grungy warehouse is fun because you get to be pretty experimental. Dressing the walls, meaning basically putting up cool fabric and letting it look DIY but intentional:

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Artist dressing room in green stage

 

This was definitely my longest day, I stayed on site 10 hours. I didn’t even notice the time passing by. Physical labor and repetitive movements are meditative to me. They release the anxiety I get about time moving forward; a.k.a. boredom. I was so focused on building the dressing rooms and setting up the furniture, I didn’t notice how tired I was. When I got home, I couldn’t feel my legs. I had staple-gunned fabric to walls, and stood on my feet for pretty much all ten hours. Still I couldn’t wait to get back on site Friday for the final push before the show began.
Day 3

I arrive on site later than usual, knowing I’ll be working late at night helping to set up the last dressing rooms and other spaces. There’s definitely a buzz in the air, time is shrinking faster than anyone liked. Production crew members are running around faster and people’s voices are getting sharper. The excitement is building momentum and drive to get the whole layout set up by Saturday morning.

Too many cooks in the kitchen definitely defines the soup of a mess we were dealing with while setting up the last dressing rooms. These cooks in particular being us volunteers. We were eager and eagerness can come at the cost of efficiency and precision. This was a hectic day and night, and by the time I left around midnight there was still much to be done. Everyone is being pushed to their limits. Luckily, Afropunk treats its volunteers well, and everyone on site always says hi, including founder Matthew Morgan.

Day 4 

It’s finally festival day! I get there 3 hours before I’m supposed to start my shift, hoping to catch some festival time. Instead, I get pulled into a job as soon as I get there. I am switched to work with the artist relations department. This means “flipping” or switching dressing rooms for the next act and running around getting necessary items, restocking snacks, and serving drinks in the artists’ lounge. It doesn’t matter, being behind the scenes and having access to all the behind the scenes spaces I helped build is cool enough for me.

Some highlights of working with artist relations department involved making Diana Ross’ son a drink in the artists’ lounge and not knowing who he was because I’m a grandma. Asking  rapper Denzel Curry who he was three times. Finding Willow Smith a tea kettle.

Day 5

Last day of Afropunk and today is a lot more intense. Security upped several notches, the crowd expanded, and there’s an electric feel in the air. The only person I really want to see that day is Princess Nokia, so by the time I get on site and backstage I am crestfallen to hear that she has cancelled her show because she’s sick. Damn.

Still, being at Afropunk and seeing the festival go live after helping to set it up for three days was amazing. Highlights of the actual festival: going to the red stage and dancing to Werc Crew’s Atlanta-famous WHINE set. Talking to an older security guard about his many gigs guarding famous people’s spaces. Reuniting with a friend I hadn’t seen since we volunteered for Afropunk when it got cancelled in 2015. Moses Sumney’s spiritual performance on Sunday. After Solange’s performance, winding down with Atlanta-based DJ Ash Lauryn’s deep house.

Day 6

There is nothing like the left-behind feeling after an event has crescendo-ed to its climax and died down. It’s amazing to me how a certain space can change its feel and purpose from one day to the next. I stroll onto site for the last time without any trouble. The space that once had heavy security has become free-flowing again. I promised to help break down, pack up, and clean up and there’s a lot to be done. I also kind of want to see the people I worked with one last time before they went off their separate ways, mostly back to NYC and to prepare for Afropunk Johannesburg in December. Various pieces of afropunk village are broken down to become a regular warehouse space again. The place is a lot quieter and the wind whistled through the warehouse walls. Afropunk 2017 is wrapped up.

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Being a part of Afropunk, with so many women of color giving directions and running shit, and being surround by people with ambition for creative visions has definitely induced some inspiration and wakefulness that has changed the way I feel and create. I crave that feeling and when I am pushed into it, it’s always a reminder to be here. I know the power the present moment has on me, and often I forget that here right now, this is it. Create your vision from here. Being a part of Afropunk has validated my decision to pursue writing and creative visions because there are so many beautiful, ambitious, creative people in one space. From my fellow volunteers to the various people who create Afropunk, to the festival go-ers who equally make it afropunk, I was surrounded by people who all want to be (t)here.

Split Realities at the 2017 Atlanta Zine Fest

20626576_10154939077978233_5395618970190200357_oThe Atlanta Zine Fest this year was a great coming together of artists and activists, those with strong online presence and those who do work on the ground. A gathering of everything zine and DIY in Atlanta, the 5th year in a row and exhibited workshops, discussions, and film screenings on Broad Street in downtown Atlanta put on by the wonderful people at murmur gallery. The schedule was split between Mammal Gallery on one side of the street and murmur on the other side. With the theme “Reality Schism” this split fits the irony of the subject matter.

I found myself at home amongst activists and artists. This year focused on the dichotomy of being an artist with a marginalized identity and how activism shapes your art. The ways in which making art as a marginalized individual feels like a “reality schism”. The ways in which marginalized voices create art and culture while simultaneously being ignored and silenced. The ways in which you experience a double reality, much like “double consciousness” as an artist in which you not only create art that counters the dominant narrative but you have to take in news and media and break it down to understand this narrative and resist it.

 

The only discussion I got to sit in on, because I’m perpetually late, was titled “My Other Other Account” led by Pastiche Lumumba. The topic was exactly what it sounds like. That moment when you have to create two, three, four accounts to direct your self, identity, and work to the right channels without getting the wires crossed. If you are a poc in Amerikkka, you might wonder, is something I’m posting considered too radical? But I am trying to be unapologetic, but at the same time what if this is too much for their privileged asses? The constant negotiation of how to curate yourself to both maintain a “marketable” status and your own voice and vision is maddening. Pastiche delved into this by at first describing the six or more different social media profiles he maintains and curates.

 

Pastiche is a brilliant meme artist or “memestress” and takes on the political through creativity and humor in memes. Often taking on controversies of the art world or mainstream internet culture, Pastiche breaks complex conversations down through these memes. For example, he took on the complex issue of who can and cannot depict black trauma, sparked by white artist Dana Schutz depiction of Emmet Till titled “Open Casket”. His meme brilliantly featured a shot from the popular satire Get Out and labeled the scene as a situation of the art controversy, with various characters representing various interests and people in the situation. A common meme technique, this immediately makes the premise of the situation, that of white supremacy and hegemony, accessible, but also uses pre-established internet culture to bounce the discussion off of.

In describing his work, Pastiche also brought on the discussion of finding work which would feed him and pay the rent while also maintaining the strong voice he has achieved which makes his work so good in the first place. A lot of the time as an artist newly forming your identity you have to decide if you are going to be unapologetically radical and if that is going to be enough (to eat) or if you will have to censor and fragment yourself in order to be successful (to eat). Given that fragmenting yourself means more labor, how much is it worth it? When are you simply contributing to the narrative which you seek to oppose?

Pastiche Lumumba has also led an online class specifically for black people on “mediating information from news media through art culture and memes”. This is interesting because not only do you have to learn to filter what is going out from you into the online world, you also have to filter what you take in. Hence, a reality schism, in which you perceive everything from a double lens. Although this double lens is your truth, you can spin yourself around too many times trying to keep up because more often than not the oppressive forces which create the hegemonic notion that your identity is not part of the mainstream end up being the ones which dictate your life. Whereas your art and consciousness, your intellectual understanding is more complex and advanced. Hence the fragmented online personas, which are nonetheless exhausting to maintain and obviously a heavier burden for those with less privilege and a more radical message.

So then the question becomes, why wouldn’t you want to fragment yourself as an artist? Who do you make work for? Where is your most authentic voice? This led me to come across the conundrum of being both an artist and a marginalized individual. As an artist fragmentation occurs often. Many artists deal with the conundrum of being heard through more than one language so to speak. Fragmentation happens when your creative voice becomes delineated to a single track/medium/outlet/genre, and you start to be confined by the parts of your work that are more acceptable. These lines of acceptability further intersect with and are built upon lines of privilege and hegemony with the white dominant culture determining what is acceptable and cool, and you must further split yourself as a person of color. Thus the space to be an artist becomes even more confined. So the question is then, when can you say “Fuck it, if you want me you have to take me as I am”? The answer is when you’re that fucking good. Unfortunately “good” is also an arbitrary marker dictated by power and hegemony. But there is still a space in which you are an amazing artist who dictates your art. The question for me as a writer then is, do you get there by just doing you, or do you continuously do good work that’s less you until you can do you?

I think that as a writer my work is very much about my social and political experience (is there anything else to write about?). Stories are always political, because they always have a message. There is always a “why” to writing which even when it is answered in the psychological or social realm eventually ends up in the political realm (because the political is personal). So to me this dichotomy seems an impossible one to breach. If I write poetry, I am drawing from my experience, I can write about love but I can also write about pain, this pain is tied to a political reality. If I am writing a story I believe I have a message to deliver and I don’t want to waste my time contributing to the narratives which have made my voice marginalized in the first place, thus my work becomes more or less political.

We finished off this night with a “light art” workshop with Black Noize Media, a startup media group that is trying to become a creator, diffuser, and distributor of black art and media. In this DIY workshop we learned how to make signs that light up with lights and some cardboard, and how to project an image with a power light onto a wall. I think using light as a creative protesting tool to make a political statement is a great idea. If you project an image with light onto a wall everyone has to see it and it is simultaneously so transient no can take it down and you aren’t breaking any laws. You take up space in a way that escapes power grips and censorship. You become as light as air and untouchable. It’s clever and powerful.