11/24/2010 04:46 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Lessons of Adulthood: The Art of Non-Conformity

Re-entry is always difficult.

This is true whether you're going back to school after a long summer vacation, going through your mail when you've been gone for a while or -- as in my own case -- sitting back down to work after taking a week off to travel with my family.

Imagine my delight, then, when I opened up the International Herald Tribune and happened upon this gem. It's an article by Alice Rawsthorn, the New York Times' design columnist, in which she sings the praises of grinding and brewing your own espresso over and above resorting to the dreaded pod espresso machines of Nespresso et al. (The indisputable allure of George Clooney notwithstanding, natch.)

I loved this article for so many reasons. For starters, as erstwhile readers of this blog will know, our own hand-brewed espresso machine holds a hallowed place within our home. As I said to my husband, who taught me to know and love what it is to brew your own coffee, this was an article that was, quite literally, written for him.

Rawsthorn has many reasons for taking a principled stance against automated espresso machines. They're boring. They're ugly. They're environmentally questionable. (Turns out it's really hard to recycle all those tiny sealed containers.)

But the main reason she rails against them is that they suppress variety, experimentation and -- yes -- inconsistency. Part of the joy of grinding your own espresso, she argues, is precisely that you never quite manage to brew the same cup of coffee twice. And therein lies the fun and beauty of doing it yourself. It's the ultimate act of personalizing your consumption.

Which brings me back to my vacation. We spent a week in Berlin, one of those über (no pun intended) European cities. While we were there, one of the many museums we visited was the Bauhaus Archive, a museum devoted to the Bauhaus school of design.

For those of you who missed that chapter in twentieth-century intellectual history (I did), the Bauhaus movement was a school of modern art and architecture that sought to fuse the gap between art and industry by sublimating "art" in the romantic sense to the exigencies of twentieth-century technological progress. This school of thought was urban, minimalist and sought, above all, to privilege functionality in design (so well captured in its motto, "Form follows function"). In many ways, it was the aesthetic movement that paved the way for mass consumption.

With its hyper-utilitarian streak, the Bauhaus movement sought to hide the messiness of artistic creation -- its flourishes, its sentimentality, its "coffee grinds," if you will. And while that yielded some really cool buildings and furniture, the overall feel was one of clear lines and uniformity of purpose, if not form. (Read Tom Wolfe's "From Bauhaus to Our House" for a particularly trenchant treatise on this point.)

This is all a long way of saying that as with architecture, so too with espresso machines: sometimes the beauty of adulthood lies in that which is unpredictable and highly personal.

Which is also why, as I stood there grinding my highly messy-yet-original espresso, I decided that re-entry wouldn't be so bad after all.

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