Sit and linger: Living a slower life started with changing how I take my coffee

“But do you ever feel like a shark?” I asked him. “Like if you stop moving you’re going to die?”

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published July 24, 2023 3:00PM (EDT)

Cappuccino with latte art on the table (Getty Images/Alexander Spatari)
Cappuccino with latte art on the table (Getty Images/Alexander Spatari)

For someone who thinks a lot about wanting a slower life, I realized that I'm exceptionally bad at just drinking a cup of coffee

It was a few weeks back now, but I recently went down the block to Big Chicks — this iconic Chicago gay bar that operates as Tweet during the day and has the best iced coffee on my street. It's simple, drip Intelligentsia, but it's served cold in a carafe alongside a glass packed with crushed ice, and, if you like, a smaller carafe of cream and a complementary slice of coffee cake. 

It was a weekday, a Wednesday I think, and I distinctly remember looking at the clock and realizing that I had 90 minutes between virtual meetings. Wouldn't it be nice to have a cup of coffee with a view that wasn't my default macOS wallpaper littered with errant screenshots? I shut my laptop, grabbed my bag and walked four minutes down to the Tweet patio, where I was seated in the sunshine with my cake and carafes. 

The electric blue, vinyl tablecloth flapped gently in the light breeze while my ice cracked and settled into the glass. The construction crew that had been digging out a basement on the razed lot across the street was on their lunch break, so it was quiet. Actually, it was almost peaceful, but there was this nagging sense that I had forgotten something. 

Then I realized, mid-sip, I hadn't heard the urgent tsk-tsk of a Slack notification in quite a while; I had left my phone at home. My stomach dropped. "It's fine, It's fine," I told myself, as I tried to focus my mind on something else. I decided that people-watching would be the thing, so I studied a wave of characters who had just gotten off the bus — a couple dressed in matching swim trunks, a man with a shock of white hair tugging at his tie, a woman with a cat in a soft mesh carrier — and watched as they all slowly disappeared into the urban landscape. Then I was again left alone with my thoughts. 

I think we all suffer from a little anxiety surrounding work. Mine has always been exacerbated by not quite knowing how to establish those seemingly mythical "work-life boundaries" everyone is always talking about. But this year, my body has been clear about the fact that I need to figure that out, and relatively quickly. 

During the coldest, grayest part of the winter, I started having trouble sleeping through the night; around  3 or 4 in the morning, I would wake up with a start and feel like I was going to be sick. Eventually, the nausea would calm down and I would go back to sleep, only for the cycle to restart an hour or so later. Throughout the day, I was fine as long as I had work to concentrate on, but during slow moments, my body would rebel again. This time, it felt like the button that activated my "fight or flight" response was perpetually jammed. I was carrying a lead ball in my stomach and it was hard to catch my breath. 

"But do you ever feel like a shark?" I asked him. "Like if you stop moving you're going to die?"

I talked to my doctor, who told me to talk to a therapist, who then told me in no uncertain terms, "You need to get better at taking breaks." 

"But do you ever feel like a shark?" I asked him. "Like if you stop moving you're going to die?" 

That's how I felt that afternoon at Tweet. While I should have been taking an actual coffee break, I was concerned that I was going to miss something pivotal during the 90 minutes I was sitting there, and then I was a little mad at myself because I knew, even in that moment, that the fear wasn't a logical one. Sure enough, when I got home, grabbed my phone and flicked open the notifications, there was only one email — and it was about a cookbook coming out in 2025. 

I'd never been particularly great at meditation, but increasingly the idea of cultivating a space where I could reorient my attention away from my worries made me interested in trying it again. I reached out to a friend of mine, Liza, who had been attending meditation classes since we were in college. 

"Start small," she advised. "Don't make a big deal out of it. Don't plan it. Just if you find yourself with a few quiet minutes in your day, start then."

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The next morning, Liza's advice was buried in my brain under a haze of bad sleep and a slight wave of nausea, which I managed to shake. I poured some cold brew into a tumbler and tossed on my sneakers for a morning walk. My hand hovered over my phone ("What if I miss something?" I thought), but I left it on the charger instead. 

I walked to the shore of Lake Michigan and sat on a craggy rock. It was still early, so the only people within my sightline were an older man sweeping the beach with a metal detector, and a teenage couple who dropped their bicycles into a patch of soft grass as soon as they saw each other and began to sloppily kiss. They scuttled towards the water when a jogger wearing a University of Chicago sweatshirt called out, "Get a room!" 

Then, it was just me and the water. Even as my sense of control with which I had so tightly gripped my life began to slip, I always found it peaceful here. A few quiet minutes. Suddenly, I thought of Liza and decided now was the time to start small. I matched my breath to the lapping waves and let myself just sit and linger and drink. 

I realized then that I could start living a slower life, and it could all start with my next cup of coffee.


By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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