Staying Relevant in a Chemex World.

(Written August 11, 2016)

It isn’t aging that I mind so much.  I just don’t want to get old.

Age happens to the body despite our best efforts. Short of some sort of surgical intervention, things tend to…drop. Perhaps plummet might be a more accurate word.

I can live with that, though.  For heaven’s sake, I birthed three children. Surely I can handle a little redistribution of stuff.  That’s all it is.

Age also brings with it a few lines from all the years of laughing and squinting and frowning. I’m told, though, that these lines can all be erased by getting a few little shots in my face.  Thank you very much, but no.

But “old”? It’s a mind thing.  It’s a choice we make when the world is changing rapidly and we decide somewhere along the line that it isn’t worth our energy to try to understand it.

And I get it.

It’s not like in my mid-fifties I’m drawing from a deep well of energy anyhow. “Old” is crabby and is easily ticked off when it doesn’t understand things. It’s like being on the outside of an inside joke. It’s like being at the end of a very long dinner table and being just out of earshot to what is so stinking funny at the other end of the table. Now that will tick you off if you’re old.  I know because I almost got old once.  Or twice.

I admit to the tendency sometimes. That’s when I pull the emergency brake and eat half a bag of mini mint chocolate chips that I keep tucked in the back of the freezer. I take a deep breath and utter these words.

Dear Lord, don’t let me go there!

Without fail,  I am miraculously and almost immediately swept up in a passion to remain relevant. It pushes me to jump right in the middle of something new. Usually with no floaties, I might add. Sink or swim baby, because we no longer live in a “permed” world.  Straight hair is the wave of the future.

It happened with technology and the digital world. It was my choice to explore the worlds of “instagram” and “twitter”,  “podcasts” and “hulu”. It was my choice to let phrases like “create an event”, “PM me” and “share a contact” become part of my vocabulary. I can learn it or live in a state of being distant, frustrated, confused and alienated. Isn’t it so wonderful that in these middle years, we can embrace “new”?  We can go a little minimal and design a tiny house? Instead of having a poodle, why we can invite a massive dog to live with us inside the house. Oh my! Who knew we don’t have to always cook fish to eat it. We can “eat clean” and give up Diet Coke. We can spend an afternoon learning to skydive in a wind tunnel and we can zipline across canyons.

New things.

Oh, I’ve made a few newbie mistakes in each of the above categories. No matter how careful I am to watch and learn, occasionally I slip up. I held my chopsticks upside down when I tried sushi the first time. The waiter corrected me when he saw me struggling. He actually brought me a pair of beginner chopsticks–chopsticks with training wheels.  Only minimal public shaming.

The first time I proudly hash-tagged on Instagram, my daughter texted me to say there are no spaces between the words. I still don’t get it, but I have embraced it and stand corrected.


I’ve caught on to a few other things, too!

For example, just last week my husband hired a new employee.  As he was telling me about it, he couldn’t recall the guy’s last name.   In less than two minutes, I had the fellow’s picture staring at us from my iPhone screen. Not only do we now know his last name, but we know other things, too.  Now that is scary proficiency, folks.

It has nothing to do with giving myself over to trends.  It has nothing to do being politically correct.  It has everything to do with engaging.

It is nothing more than me kicking “old” to the curb when I get a go at it. It is me trying oh so hard to be fearless. I assure you it’s intentional.  It’s well-calculated.  And sometimes it is exhausting.

But I don’t like the alternative.

A few days ago, I began drifting toward “old” again. I began to gripe about the dumbest things. Thank goodness there was the last half of the mini mint chocolate chips in the back of the freezer to help me refocus.

That and a new passion to help me stay relevant. The statistics about relevancy are frightening to me.  I just read that if I’m no longer relevant I might not keep my job! The article went on to make an even more profound declaration. It said that without relevance, I might be called…wait for it…


Just let the depth of that comment sink in.  If you want my respect, it will take you all of a millisecond.  I think it was written by the same fellow who invented no spaces in hashtags.  Has to be.

Though I think name-calling is uncalled for,   I do not wish to be labeled “irrelevant”. Therefore, I won’t be.

I am learning a knew language now. It matters not whether the language is new to anyone else. It might even fall in the category of “fairly new”, but it is new to me.

It is the language of Chemex.

Chemex.  The trendy way to serve pour-over coffee. Achieved by blending “astute science with fine art to deliver a rich, pure coffee you just can’t live without”.  That’s what their brochure says anyway. Oh I’ve done my research. According to Facebook and Instagram mentions, “Chemex” is spoken by most all twenty and thirty-somethings out there.  It is art to them, the brochure says. I’m not trying to be that age again, but I sometimes like to talk to twenty and thirty-somethings.  Sooo…if it’s art to them, then it will be art to me too!

Yesterday I bought a Chemex.

I didn’t realize it didn’t include filters.  Let me be “old” for just a minute and say that at the price I paid, filters should have been included. That’s it. That’s all I’m saying.

Lowes Market, my local hometown grocer, doesn’t carry Chemex filters. H.E.B. is a 45-minute drive from home.  They don’t carry them either. But you know who does carry them?  Whole Foods–or as my husband calls it–“Holier-Than-Thou” Foods. A mere hour drive to the city.

Still, such a small price to pay for relevancy, ya know?

Before going to bed last night, I excitedly opened my new 8-cup Chemex to prepare for the next morning’s brewing.  It was interesting looking with its hourglass-shaped carafe and its wooden handle.  I carefully washed and dried it before opening the box of filters–a really large box of filters.

I was unaware that there were different types of Chemex filters. No one had ever spoken about that. Not the sales person.  Not my daughter. So I grabbed the first box I saw.

Here’s the skinny on the filters. You have your Unfolded Circles and your Pre-Folded Circles.  Then there are your Pre-Folded White Squares and your Pre-Folded Natural Squares. And then, of course the Unfolded Half Moons.  Those are the ones I bought.

Here have a look for yourself.

Gals.  We are emancipated! We can vote and everything. We are educated. We have permanent press clothing now so we don’t have to iron.  We’re amazing.  We can work AND take care of our children AND our husbands AND our homes.  All at the same time.  So tell me why would anyone think we have a desire to fold our coffee filters?  Is it a joke? Are they laughing behind our middle-aged backs seeing just how far we’ll go to stay relevant?

Well here’s a newsflash!  I learned how to fold those Unfolded Half Moon filters because I paid $6.99 for 100. In all honesty I’ll tell you I bought two boxes of them because of the long drive to get them. So by golly, I plan to use them! Oh dear, I don’t mean to gripe.

“Old”…get thee behind me!!

Chocolate chips…and breathe…and here we go.

I didn’t learn the folding technique from reading the directions on the box, which were printed entirely too small to see even with my 2.75 strength reading glasses–an effect of “aging” of course and not of “old”.

I researched the fold and I learned.

I found the Youtube video to be quite helpful actually.  I watched it five or six times, give or take.  That’s all it took. I was empowered knowing that if there was a video on the subject, there surely must be other relevance-seekers like me! In fact, I know now that many Chemex-ers half my age have yet to learn the art of folding the Half-Moon Unfolded filter.  I smirk.

My husband doesn’t understand my quest for relevance. Mostly he doesn’t understand why it must impact our morning coffee. Our morning coffee is sacred.

“Do you not like our percolator?  Does this other thing–this Chemex–taste better?” he asked.  I thought it was sweet the way he defended the percolator.

Phhh.  It isn’t always just about the taste, silly man.

It is simply a cycle towards relevancy.

First there was Mr. Coffee, and we loved him until we just couldn’t.  Then there was the fancy Cuisinart. Two of them, actually–one of them in a lovely apple red.  Eventually, however, it became passé so we moved on.

That’s when we began to grind our own beans.

Totally relevant at the time.

Soon we didn’t need to grind our beans though, because we embraced the cutting edge Keurig with all the wonderful little flavor-filled K-cups. Quickly though, the children judged us for contributing to the mound of plastic waste in the world and they began turning their noses up at Keurig’s substandard taste. We were on the verge of becoming irrelevant then and we didn’t even realize it.

Close call.

We redeemed ourselves, however, when they came home to find us french-pressing our coffee.

I know!  So international and so darn charming, we thought they thought.

A few years later we went a little old-school with my husband’s beloved electric percolator. We’ve had two of them. They cost under $20,  so we pat ourselves on the back for going old-school and thrifty at the same time. My husband always rises early to get the percolator going.  He says it’s biblical since it is written “Hebrews”. He tells me this at least once a week and we’ve been married 34 years. That’s 1,768 times…conservatively speaking.   In an unpredictable world, I take comfort in the certainty of his… particular brand of humor. No really, I do.

Back to coffee though.

We recently added Cold Brew to the mix, requiring its own specific kind of grind and making it the perfect caffeinated choice for hot summer days.

And now?  Chemex.

Did you know that a suggested #4 grind of the coffee is perfect for this method of brewing? Or that once you’ve poured a small amount of boiling water over the grounds in the half-moon, now-perfectly-folded filter you should wait 30 seconds to let the grounds “bloom”?  Who knew? Blooming is of utmost importance since this is when the most desirable coffee elements are released from the grounds. And one more thing. Pouring the water over the grounds in a slow, circular fashion is a true sign of Chemex fluency.

As I got ready for bed the night after I bought my Chemex, I informed my husband that just this once, I must brew.  I imagined how much fun I would have the next morning experimenting with this new and hip form of coffee-making.  I pulled back my hair to wash my face and noticed the white hair amidst the blonde right at my hairline.  I shrugged it off as I reached for the Retinol. Then the extra heavy moisturizer. And finally, two cranberry pills for digestive tract health and a single Advil PM to ensure a good night’s rest.  I grabbed my computer and climbed into bed.  Until I fell asleep, I tried something I’d heard about called “binge watching”. Interesting.

Age is nothing, I think. “Old” isn’t a foregone conclusion. It didn’t happen to me that day.

Not that day.

Because I was only one sleep and a first-pour away from being fluent in Chemex, and therefore relevant.

I was at a meeting today, and during the meeting we talked about learning something new.  Afterwards we were invited to stay an extra 15 minutes where a woman named Rita would be happy to teach us a line dance called The Electric Slide.  Staying was optional, and most everyone left but four of us. Plus Rita.  I was the youngest. Rita turned on “Elvira” and the four of us did the Electric slide in the youth room of a Methodist Church. It was exhilarating!  It was new and unexpected and out of the box.

As it turns out, Rita–who is likely somewhere in her early 70’s–square dances twice a week.  Then usually two other nights a week she dances country and western at a place called Pardners.

Rita is making herself relevant.  She has so much to talk about.  She is absolutely not going to grow old.

There is a 44-year-old woman from a country called Ubekistan.  Her name is Oksana Chusovitina.  You know what she’s doing these days to stay relevant and engaged?  She’s competing in the Olympics in Rio. It’s her 7th Olympics as a competitor. As I write this, she is in the vault  FINALS.  Amazing and rare.

Though in the last three or four years I’ll admit that my cartwheel has suffered, I still feel a kinship with Oksana.  Even without knowing her, I know she is planning to age without growing old.

Me too, Oksana! 

My process will absolutely not involve a vault or a beam, but it will involve a Chemex and other things I know nothing about today.

That day I learned to make coffee a new way, I expanded what I know.  I have a new thing to talk about.  Just one small thing that engages me in life.  I am thankful that the world keeps changing on me and that it still manages to peak my curiosity in a million little ways.

It’s what I’m praying these days.  That I will always see something. Big things and little things. Important things and trivial things. Hysterically funny things and heart-wrenching things. Because when I see something and do the follow-up, I have something to talk about.  Something to share.  Something to discuss.

Sometimes that thing is simply a really smooth cup of pour-over coffee.

Find more essays by Dana Knox Wright below!