Medieval thinkers partitioned the soul into memory, understanding, and the will. I propose, instead, water, tea, and expresso. Under this classification, life is essentially easy. Drink enough water, make some tea, and be careful with expresso—it’ll fuck with your sleep. (Note also that there’s the wild card, vodka, but it’s quite inexplicable, like the medieval God.)
Water, the omnipresent background radiation that is overlooked due to the generality of its presence. Indispensable, but only acknowledged in its absence. Eating, sleeping, doing simple bureaucratic stuff, saying Hi, making your bed, grocery shopping, filling up water. Simple, ignored, but potentially wonderful.
Tea, a stronger stimulation that remains mild and flowy, tasteful but not exceedingly sweet. Listening to music, going into nature, conversation, novel reading, movie watching. A serenity that is just there, serene.
Expresso, a hyper-heightened participation in the world. Extreme and futile, but fun and necessary. Carnivals. Performances. Real intense conversations. Reading a really hard book. Telling someone “I Love You!”.
Life emerges in the cosmic battle between the three beverages, and the good life, in the constant effort to make tea out of water and protect tea from expresso’s overbearing presence.
To make tea is to find the interesting in the ordinary and to enchant that which is directly given. Without this, we’ll drown in the tedium, normality, and non-being of water. We make tea through art and thought, where the everyday is raised into its dignity in beauty and complexity; we make tea through love, through loving the world and loving the people around us; we make tea by being attentive to the water that we’re always drinking, and seeing how shockingly tasty it can potentially be.
To protect tea is to ground us in tea amidst our chase for the great buzz of expresso. We’re always preparing ourselves for the big moment—getting blackout drunk after a day’s work, the wonderful “how we met” story, or the sumptuous meal every Friday—therein failing to appreciate and make livable the everyday. Our constant anticipation for expresso providing an excuse for us not to change the everyday when we hate it, covering, in its sound and fury, all the changes we need to make to make life more wonderful. Bursts of happiness may come, but it is not life-sustaining. We should know when to get a cup of expresso to lighten the day, but expresso without tea is empty and blind, just as tea without expresso lacks some excitement.
The art of tea is the art of a life well lived. But take my advice with a grain of salt. As Chinese, I’m always-already partial to tea.