I heard on the radio that Durham’s getting a few fleets of electric scooters soon. They’re the kind you rent and ride wherever, paying where you park. Raleigh’s already got ’em, most of the big cities do. An ‘it’ thing, hip transportation, a symptom of not knowing how to take the time to walk.
Everything changes. The only thing open to you is whether to be bitter about it. Grumpy old guardians of tradition, not acknowledging the transgressions made in your own youthful years against the expectations of your fathers. There’s a danger there – sometimes the canes we wag from our front porches are hiding swords.
I was talking to a friend about the ’80s. He thought they had better music back then, better art, a better flair. He liked the bright colors and rumblings of futurism. He didn’t like, so much, what that decade’s dreams developed into – a high-tech paradise the color of skim milk, where the robots are more likely to sell you something than to question their identity.
How do you preserve good old things without bringing along the baggage? How do you let the world change without losing the rest of the timeline?
Coffee: Light Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand; my friend Z is staying at our apartment for a few days; he bought some coffee because he’d been using mine; I told him he’s always welcome to share because if you can’t share coffee, you can’t share much of anything; still, he bought it, so we shared this new coffee instead; thin like the first sheets of ice in winter; fills up your mouth and then your throat, hangs around in there, warming you up
Sometimes it’s hard to write the Coffee Log. 10:40pm, well past my bed-time on a work night, I’m only now sitting down to type this out. It’s been hard to write the Coffee Log today.
But don’t get the wrong assumptions – nothing’s happened, no tragedies. It was a fine day. A quite morning, friendly afternoon. And maybe that explains it – why it’s been so hard to get my fingers moving on the keyboard – because good, easy things are the toughest to write about. A cream-colored wallpaper, perfectly harmless, hard to pick apart with words.
It’s been five days now that I’ve been on an antidepressant. Welbutrin, specifically. That’s not enough time for the drug to do much (the psychiatrist said it takes at least three weeks) but you can’t help feeling hopeful when you make a change. I spent a couple hours cleaning all the clutter from my room, a couple more sitting by the window thinking about my thinking and wondering if it had changed. Mostly, I wanted to feel something other than that weekend pressure, the free-time skunk of not knowing what to do with myself that’s had me wrapped up for the past few months. Unfortunately, the feeling was still there.
I haven’t been writing much. On weekdays, I can ignore it, because I’m so caught up in my day-job, but as soon as Friday shakes itself over into six a.m. Saturday, I’m feeling lost and fed up when the words won’t come. They say you are only able to write yourself out of a writer’s block, but I’ve been writing, and I think this block is something else.
I spent twenty-nine years seeing myself as an author. In my mind, that meant getting away. A 1930’s expat drowning lonely in France, or someone caught in the in-between spots of cafes and train stations, never settled down. But to live that life you have to be willing to give up something, or have nothing in the first place to give. I work a nine-to-five job to make sure no-one I know has to pay for me, and to sometimes be able to pay for them. I want my bases covered. The ‘author’ in my head has never been me.
How do you write about a life you don’t love? That’s the kind of life most people are living. Low, mundane. I can’t speak for the desperate because I’ve never been it. I can’t speak for the wildly successful either. But everyday I talk to people with decent-paying jobs and lists of problems they’re just-able to cover, loving little of the middling moments, finding most of their joy in five-to-ten minutes of after-work wine sipping. We get along handsomely. It’s easy to see ourselves in each other.
I grew up in a small town that wasn’t small enough to be communal, but wasn’t big enough for opportunities. I moved a few towns over to a place with more money but the same in-the-middle-of-everything scenes. All my art is drawn here, simple, fine things with no color. Something that’s hard to hate but just as hard to love.
The weekend’s almost over. It’s 11:00 pm now. Tomorrow, I’ll jump the work-rhythms until I get to go home. At home, I’ll tidy up, cook dinner, maybe read a book. No time to think about all the books I’m not writing. Those thoughts can wait until the weekend.
I bought a book from a local bookstore and realized I’ve been shopping more at local stores now. That made me think about my capital, disposable income, and what it means to live in a community when you have means versus when you don’t.
A few years back, I was hovering paycheck to paycheck on part-time jobs trying to write the next great American novel. I wrote the novel, no telling how great it is, but that’s a different story. I remember paying careful attention to how I spent my money back then. I remember when Wendy’s was eating out and how all my necessities came from big-box chains with sweat-shop prices. And to be fair, even then, I was living somewhat luxuriously. There were some days when my dollars didn’t have to stretch.
Here’s a fact: most local shopping is more expensive. Buy a burger at your corner store and it’s more than McDonald’s. Buy beaded dresses in town and it’s more than Wal-Mart. What does that say to the community? You can’t know your neighbors’ best work if you aren’t wealthy. You’re allowed to exist, but only in the neutral space of retail chains.
I’ll say it again: the economics of mass commerce mean the blood and soul of a place is only offered to those with the means to leave it. You earn enough not to be tied to your hometown and suddenly you can access its best features. Meanwhile, the woman across the street working two jobs at less pay than her male co-workers can’t go anywhere other than here, and yet she has no access to the fabric of the place she lives.
I bought the book and later, at a local take-out place, I tipped well, even though a tip wasn’t required. And then I drove home knowing I could just as easily drive to anywhere else.
Playing new Doom .wads and watching old commercials, Z and I tried to approximate 1993. The only thing missing was a bit of optimism.
It rained off and on today. Sometimes, I feel like I’m turning the Coffee Log into a weather report. But that’s okay because I love talking about the weather.
I talked to a middle-aged man for two hours today about logging into things online. He couldn’t remember his password. I helped him type a new one, he couldn’t remember that either. He had a snake tattoo on his bicep and one glass eye. He couldn’t be more than twenty years older than me, but twenty years makes a difference.
I have a cousin who used to chew tobacco. He might still chew tobacco but I haven’t seen him in twenty years. He came down to visit when I was in elementary and offered to buy me a videogame or a pair of sunglasses. I picked the game over the glasses and we took turns playing before my mother had finished cooking dinner. After he handed off the controller, he’d spit the chew. Gunk in a clear water bottle. It looked like late autumn leaves.
Even though the climate’s changed, we talked about weather just the same in 1993.
A dog got out downstairs and ran havoc on the other dogs at the park. It did what it was born to do – run, struggle, pick apart stiff muscle with whale-white teeth. In the end, no other pup was hurt enough for anything serious, like talk of vet violence, putting it down. But the dog was caught and brought back home. It sits on beige carpet. I know the color because all the apartments have beige carpet. At best, it can fit its front paws on the window, it’s eyes through the glass, it’s breath wet, fogging. Summer day.
I listened to a podcast about masculinity. It said ‘you don’t have to be isolated to be strong,’ and that ‘you don’t have to be tough to be a man.’ It talked about emotion and how everybody has it, a full range, every color. One of the guys says: “men in my father’s generation proved they were men by selling themselves to hard labor, something you can express only with a strong body,” and then “now those jobs are gone.”
Later today, I caught a bit of a radio show about Latina soccer players in the early 1900’s. They were considered crude and rebellious for showing strength with their bodies. Women were supposed to play games and exercise in ways that made them docile, motherly, easy to protect. Accentuate the feminine body – no muscle, all curves. Soccer was too rough for that.
Sitting at a table for a garden party together, we’re all mixed up: socialized men needing places to put their emotions out of view, tuck them under the arms of their women; socialized women, given so few outlets for their strength or independence, are coerced to oblige. Tangled. No-one notices the fisherman’s knot, catching us all, reeling in.
Right now, the dog’s probably sleeping off his busy day. He’s dreaming of damp grass and matted fur. Meanwhile, we gather ourselves around him, staring, like he’s the only animal we’ve ever seen.
The psychiatrist was wearing two rings and a gold watch. One ring was set with a large, red stone. Not a ruby, it was more solid than that.
We sat in the brown office together. He had spreadsheets pulled up on his computer but I couldn’t tell if they had to do with me. I was occupied with two things, mostly – whether or not the heat in the office was making sweat visible as it was stringing down my armpits; and how not to get devoured by the big blue leather couch.
It was a breezy meeting. In at 4:15, out by 4:45. I liked that.
The only thing notable about the psychiatrist, aside from his jewelry, was the way he sat. He kept both legs planted on the ground. Pay attention to people resting and you’ll notice not many of them do that. It’s much more comfortable if your knees are crossing.
As I told him my life in bullet points, he’d lean forward or back with his elbows on his knees. He’d go close when he was asking questions and lean back for dramatic moments. He didn’t say much. He seemed more comfortable with the explaining – here’s where all the cords connect, and this is what we’ll do to cut them. He had the same joy listing side effects as your fattest uncle does cutting into thanksgiving pies.
Behind the computer, about two feet deeper on the desk, was a miniature bookshelf. They were big books, medical, and most were red. The way the sun was going through the office window, those reds looked much like a bed of old, withered flowers, or rusted tools, or the jewel on the psychiatrist’s ring. It made me think there must be a connection between that color and the man, that he was so confounded by it he had to surround himself. We’re drawn most deeply to things we can’t quite figure out. We want to be known by the shiny charms that are just a bit too expensive for us. Always stepping two feet further than the last man you saw walk the diving board, stiff as death and chest extended, close to slipping towards deep, blue water.
At the end of the visit, he prescribed me pills to treat a mild, chronic depression. He said they’d make things feel like something instead of nothing. I wanted to ask him what it ought to feel like to see red books cast in summer sunlight, but didn’t get the chance. After a month of taking the pills, at our next visit, maybe I’ll have my own answer.
Long ago, to isolate themselves from a world of beasts, humans began building cities. But since beasts prowl within stone walls as well as outside them, this did not allay human fears. The truth is, walls guarantee no one’s safety. The place where you lock yourself in and lock all else out – that’s not your home. Your home is sometimes a place you travel long and far to find.
Marcin Blacha, Head Writer for ‘The Witcher 3’, a videogame; quote given by character Geralt of Rivia