Love ’em or hate ’em, PSL season is here. That spiced, frothy goddess now presides over cafes in all her festal harvest glory. She won’t be going anywhere until deposed by marketing departments in favour of the usurpers gingerbread and eggnog.
Clearly I have a problem, but it’s not that I anthropomorphize hot drinks. My problem is that I love pumpkin spice lattes, but I just can’t seem to enjoy them. Sure there’s hype, and it’s the kind of hype that a hot drink can’t hope to live up to, but I think it’s more than that. My heart hyped the PSL before I ever tasted my first latte.
What you need to understand is how I feel about autumn. I don’t just like it. It is handsdown the best 3-4 months of the year! There’s no need to worry about hydrating, every activity can be referred to as “brisk”, and steamy soup isn’t just enjoyable — it’s bliss. Did I mention the sweaters?
The fall is a big deal for me, obviously, but it’s more than how it makes me feel. The feelings autumn pull out of me are what make the season so pleasing. Pumpkin Spice Lattes’ claim, in their only-for-a-limited-time way, to deliver those feelings in a cup. Instead, PSLs are a massive disappointment.
Those feelings include physical and emotional comfort, the desire to hold onto temporal experiences, and my longing to somehow become a tweed-wearing artist pushing through currents of swirling autumn leaves. This is so much bigger than lattes.
PSLs are a perfect example of the cycles of desire and disillusionment that most of us are familiar with. You get excited about something, maybe a movie or even a relationship, and when you experience it you almost feel robbed. It doesn’t measure up.
I suppose we all know that reality almost never meets our ideals. This may be why most of us simply manage our expectations and move on. If you don’t expect much from anything then there’s a greater chance you might be pleasantly surprised. There is one problem with that thinking is this: it is impossible to truly live that way.
First, our consumer culture won’t allow it. We’re not offered products, but experiences of temporal and emotional tastes presented as deep sources of satisfaction. Sorting the truth from the lies can seem simple enough, in theory, but, in practice, it is difficult. Starbucks doesn’t sell pumpkin spice lattes as an artificially flavoured option among many (though it is). They sell it as the whole of your autumnal desires –”it’s finally here!”– with whipped cream on top.
Second, the more problematic reason for the impossibility of living with carefully managed expectations is this — our ever-pumping, ever-hoping little hearts. There may be marketing muscle behind the PSL but my heart has been buying bad promises from first beat. We can’t seem to avoid the lure of unrealistic expectations, whether in the form of nostalgia or the hype of new iPhones. We’re always reaching for the “one more thing” that may complete us. Maybe that’s why Steve Jobs is sorely missed; we thought he might finally think up that one last thing.
So, do I melt into a puddle of shattered expectations and dead dreams when I walk into a Starbucks? No, thankfully I don’t, but the threat is ever-present because I want all the big talk to be true. Don’t we all? We have these deep cravings for experiences that we can’t seem to nail down, the ones we’re afraid to talk about or even doubt secretly, because what would we have without those longings?
I want autumn, but every fall I only hear whispers of what I really want – the comfort, perfection and nostalgia of my favourite season. But fall fails to live up to the expectations of my heart, and pumpkin spice lattes are complicit in the deception. I wish autumn could be distilled and drinkable. I want the perfect hug, bottomless beauty at the edge of winter, and an honest grande latte.
C.S. Lewis may have spoken the only helpful word into this problem: “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”