Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 301


Coffee: Organic Dark Roast, Don Pablo’s

The Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres said that ‘a wind of madness is sweeping the globe.’ What with wildfires barely abating in Australia, ice melting at the poles, and dehumanizing rhetoric amplified everywhere from America to Lichstenstein, it’s hard not to agree with him.

And it’s hard, I guess, to know how to respond.

This time last year I was working on a novel. It would have been my second, it was hot and summery like red clay or okra-colored July. I wanted to write something personal so I wrote about family. I wanted to write something relevant so I was writing about North Carolina, my long-time home. But the novel fizzled out.

I’m making a decent living for the first time in my life. More than decent, really, in that I’m able to save, and able to afford those trips to Atlanta, or my ever-increasing hobby of scale-modeling. I’ve got mixed feelings about this living. When I lost my job at the bookstore two years ago to layoffs, I thought long and hard about my strategy for what I would work toward next. I wanted something semi-permanent, that wouldn’t sweep out from under me, that gave me room to grow. So I took what skills I had working with people and making sales and sought out banking. I’m proud of that part, the decision making, and it feels like a kind of hot-flash now looking back on it, all that time typing cover letters and worrying about what would happen next.

But I’m mixed up about the comfort. I’m mixed up because of those mad winds from Guterres, because I’m safe and comfortable while 138 refugees from El Salvador were turned away at the US border only to find their way back to their homes to be speak face to face with the devils that chased them. And selfishly, I’m mixed up because I don’t feel things the way I used to.

In the July of my life, those hot middle years in my 20’s, everything I did or didn’t do seemed to matter. Whether it was walking to the store or switching jobs, my moments were engulfing, because I was scared, because I was uncertain and because I was tired. Even then, my daily needs were being met better than most of the world, but they were only just being met, and that distinction was important, because I felt like a climber who was staunchly hanging on but hadn’t gotten up the ledge yet. This is normal. I’m not the first person to romanticize minor struggles, or the early years disparagingly called ‘finding-yourself.’ There are wealths of industry built to capitalize that self-obsessed hunger, and wealths more, surely, waiting in the wings to meet the particular tastes of a new generation. But just because it’s an old note doesn’t make it less accurate, and I can’t deny looking back sometimes with a longing.

I stopped writing the novel for two reasons: I was busy, in the literal and immediate way that new responsibilities can give you; and I had stopped seeing myself as the center of my own universe. Every story I’d written was first-person. Every narrator was a bit of me. Like I said, I’d set out to tell a personal story, one that was relevant, but with the new luxury of time and the space to look outside my wants and needs, I no longer felt connected to the story I was telling. I had friends and families with lives worth loving, people coming to me with their own needs and stories every day at work. In 2018, I remember standing in line on a brisk mid-morning in November and voting with hundreds of other Americans and thinking: I’m just one part of this.

The great confounding romance of the contemporary moment isn’t between two people, but between every soft, solitary human body and the rest of the world. However much the Nationalists want to crush it, we’re living globally. I can’t see the lines separating me my American brothers tasked with turning away the suffering from our Southern border. And I can’t find space to move away from the encroaching icebergs. And, of course, the final irony is that I only have the privilege of feeling compassion because my own life, my own needs are covered.

I can’t find that space in my heart for the vanity of being a writer. There are too many other structures to hold fast against the roaring winds.

Currently Reading: Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

Tensions were of course high as the last year ended, but we were moving in the right direction in a number of hotspots. We were seeing signs of de-escalation and some measure of progress.
That’s all changed.
I have spoken recently about winds of hope. But today a wind of madness is sweeping the globe.

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres