Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 12

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; I had a conversation about Caribou Coffee with my coworker. She likes the blonde blends. I tell her I’m stuck on espresso. She describes a calm Sunday morning sipping coffee and pouring juice for her daughter. Sweet and warm. Maybe I’ll try the blonde next time.

2Chainz just dropped his fifth studio album. As such, he’s on an interview tour to promote. I watched his sit-down with The Breakfast Club. He talks about feeling underrated. 2Chainz – multi-millionaire, real estate mogul, syndicated TV personality, worldwide recognizable artist – feels underrated. He feels like people underestimate his art. He might be right. Regardless, that all got me thinking:

How do you define success for yourself?

Six years ago, I was applying to MFA’s at the same time as a close friend. My friend got accepted, I didn’t. I took him out to dinner at a burger joint in Greensboro to celebrate. I told him flat out: “I’m proud for you, but jealous as hell.” We laughed about it, but the envy had gone past green to yellow. I set to writing short stories, ended up with ‘Chessboard and Tequila,’ and submitted it to sixty lit journals until it was published in ‘Prick of the Spindle.’ When I told my friend, he took me out to celebrate. And he told me he was proud for me but terribly jealous.

I read a different article about artists generally. It was in The Atlantic, written by a neuroscientist, and was one of those pieces that pop up every few years trying to link creativity to particular brain activity. It wasn’t terribly successful, but of all the corollaries, the most reliable seemed to be a link between artistic tendency and anxiety. These were people who described great satisfaction in their work but whose brains were constantly wracked with worry. No matter what you create, it won’t match your aspirations.

That’s a negative note to end on, so instead I’ll leave with this: ego’s double-edged – you might build mountains for yourself, but in the same breath you’re building climbing gear to get yourself up them.

Novel Count: 29,630

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; FINISHED!

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Psychedelic flow, I’m the dope and the antidote.

2Chainz, Money in the Way – Rap or Go to The League


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 10

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I finally finished reading ‘Killing Commendatore.’ I read the last chapter while rain came down outside. The book rushes to a climax then wraps things up with an extended epilogue. It feels unfinished, but I think it’s supposed to feel that way. The book was about art – why you love it, why you make it, what it does to you.

For a couple months, I was convinced I’d eventually cut the Coffee Log down to a weekly blog. This was last year, September and October. Life was hectic at the time. I was applying for a new job. I was sitting on a stack of lit journal rejections. I was trying to work things out with an old lover so we could still be friends. I was drinking tall drinks in the aftermath of learning that – at least for a while – we couldn’t. And there I was writing one of these every day.

It was exhausting.

It still is.

My big fear was that I wouldn’t ever write anything else. Sometimes I’ll sit down and spit one of these logs out in the time it takes to blow out a nose full of pollen. Other times, they take over an hour. That’s a lot of life on the weekdays, and a lot of mental energy besides. I’ve learned to scrutinize my day-to-day for things to say in a way I never had before. It’s an invaluable skill, but draining.

So what room’s left for a novel in all of that?

It was Halloween that did it for me. Some friends were over. We were watching Over the Garden Wall. The night was dark and spooky and magic despite having to work the next morning. Halfway through the show, I stole off to my computer to write the daily Coffee Log. If you remember, that was a long one. It was a narrative. It was fiction. It was creepy. I wrote it on the spot and when it was done I felt full. I was a bunch of warm tossed towels spinning in a drier. The next day, I started working on my second book.

This has all been a long-winded way of saying that effort has consequences: good and bad. I feel drained. Sharing these stories daily has changed the way I live life. But at the same time, there’s a new effortlessness in sitting down to write.

‘Killing Commendatore’ is also Murakami finding a sort of religion. Nothing specific or labeled, but rather just belief. Learning to live life believing in something without any evidence for or against it. A kind of faith. I think you have to have that to be an artist. I think you have to have that to be much of anything. It’s scary walking a bridge alone. Sometimes you need someone to walk with you – whether that’s God, Science, or a simple Idea.

Novel Count: 29,417

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; FINISHED!

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You can have all the desire and ache inside you want, but what you really need is a concrete starting point.

Haruki Murakami, Killing Commendatore


Coffee Log, Day 356

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I read an article in the News & Observer about an art exhibit at the Cary Senior’s Center. Not exactly the Guggenheim, but no less important.

Anyway, here’s the short of it: Bing Weng is an artist from China. She comes to Cary last October to visit her daughter. While here, she gets a gig to show 38 paintings at the Senior Center. A couple weeks before the show, the center pulls three of the paintings. They display Xi Jinping with a dark hand over Asia. They are political, overtly. The rest of her work is mostly floral. It’s apolitical, overtly. The director says the works weren’t ‘consistent’ with her other pieces. And of course there were two public complaints.

America, right? Land of Freedom. You can say anything as long as it doesn’t say anything. But life’s not all roses. It’s the sun, the soil, the bugs that eat the roses, too. And why would you want to think about that?

It’s a popular line to say we’re too politically correct in 2019. And the opposite’s got some traction too, that our rhetoric is vile. I think those sentiments come from the same place: fear. We’ve been sitting comfortably for some time (those on the fortunate fringes, anyway). No need to worry about crushing poverty or oppression or global war. Those things happen where you can’t see them. And our culture wants to keep them there, because the minute you’re made to see the wretched green animals stalking around your garden, you’re damned with cowardice or apathy if you don’t stand up to do something about them.

But what do I know? I’m just another flower-painter.

Novel Count: 23,930

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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“When I am in China, I have no freedom of speech, so I couldn’t paint political work,” she said.

Bing Weng, quoted by Joe Johnson, ‘Chinese artist’s exhibit in Cary is missing 3 paintings. The town says they’re too political.’

Coffee Log, Day 335

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; quicker to grind than the Locomotive Blend that A gifted me; I was running late this morning; I’d been caught in a looping dream about running errands for 2Chainz; I enjoyed the coffee, though it made me wistful for celebrity friendships that could have been.

The first day back to work is always an adjustment. Long weekend, short weekend, extended vacation, it doesn’t matter, that day back is like the bathroom lightswitch: the first bright thing you see in the morning, abrasively glamouring as you’re still trying to rub open your eyes.

I don’t have much else to talk about today, so I’ll talk about my progress into ‘Killing Commendatore.’ I’m about 200 pages in out of a 700 total. So far, I’d say it’s one of Murakami’s better later-day novels. You can tell it was written by an aging man. You can also tell it was written by a professional writer. It likes to luxuriate in long passages about putting on a certain opera record, or fixing a cup of coffee. That is, it sits you down in daily doldrums and tells you to like it. I do like it. But I have to say I miss the vitality of some of his earlier works. I wonder if any artist catches fire after his/her first or second time? If you’ve spent all your life waiting to produce something, how can anything beyond that first creation have the same drive behind it?

Who knows. Though I’ve written many short stories and one novel, I’ve only had minor publications, and more importantly I still don’t feel like I’ve captured that initial glow. Each new work gets me closer, and I’m sure its the kind of thing that you know when you have it. Depending on how the current book pans out, maybe that’ll be it.

But this is supposed to be about Murakami. Go read ‘Killing Commendatore.’ It makes uninteresting things interesting. And if you do read it, tell me what you think.

Novel Count: 18,170

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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From a distance, most things look beautiful.

Haruki Murakami, Killing Commendator

Coffee Log, Day 320

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

My roommate was cooking eg-vocados for dinner and she had two extra so I had eg-vocados for dinner. To those not in the know, an ‘eg-vocado’ is just an egg baked in half an avocado. They were quite good.

Later on, we’re listening to music, a song she likes, and she tells me it sounds like the way you look at Christmas lights. And I think that’s perfect and I tell her. Which gets me thinking about what I love best about humanity, and what makes want to be an artist: simple metaphors.

I think there’s a good chance no-one else will listen to that song and spontaneously imagine it to be like looking at Christmas lights. There’s nothing about the song or about the lights that necessarily imply a connection. And even if you stared at both a long time, both under microscope and from as far away as outer space, you wouldn’t find any bit of the two contained in each other.

So E created a new connection. A tiny word bridge between two previously unrelated things. And it was a beautiful bridge, and now that I’ve been down it I can’t imagine the world without it.

That’s powerful.

When you’re a little kid, you only know your home. Then you get older and your horizons expand. That’s easy. That’s natural. Each new place is another notch of understanding, more knowledge of this large but finite planet. And when you’re good and grown, there’s a lack of magic – for me and I imagine for most people. You’ve already answered the big questions. You know what’s coming around the corner. Nothing in the world can surprise you.

But take two things and push them together and there’s something new. A book, a song, that’s art in a nutshell. It keeps you living long after you’ve burned life out. And it might just be divine – generating completely new, authentic content in a world that once existed without it. Spontaneous creation. A self-caused cause, of sorts.

But anyway, the night was good food and good company. I’m happy and full.

Novel Count: 12,143

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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Everything you can imagine is real.

Pablo Picasso


Coffee Log, Day 227

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I sat in a Chinese takeout joint and watched a young white guy wearing a bathrobe and bath slippers open and close the door to the drink cooler then run behind the counter at a breakneak, past the stoves, out the back of the store. For one quick second everyone was watching and then he was gone. An older guy followed him. The staff acted like it happened all the time.

Later, I led some friends in a Dungeons and Dragons game. Someone else wrote the world but I’d made changes and then my friends made changes and by the end of it we’d ended up somewhere other than I’d been expecting. It was fun. When I was fifteen I wanted to be in a band. I played cello and a friend played electric bass, another played electric guitar, we tried jamming but I was always in my head. I couldn’t do it. My cheeks were pink. I was embarrassed. I wanted things to sound a certain perfect way that I seldom heard on my own time, sure couldn’t find with other people playing.

Tonight, though, it stuck. We told the story together. I’d like to think that means I’m getting somewhere. It’s easy to slip into a manic auteurship as an author. You and the keyboard, pen-pals. But writing is telling stories and you can’t tell much of anything to an empty room. We’ll continue the D&D campaign next week. Can’t wait to see where the story goes.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

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“The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don’t need any rules.” – Gary Gygax

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Coffee Log, Day 224

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I read a New York Times Magazine article about contemporary art. It started at a dinner table, two friends arguing about the show ‘Insecure.’ One friend liked it, the other didn’t. They both were black men.

The friend who liked it said there were no grounds to question ‘Insecure.’ It’s a TV series by and about black women in America – it’s too important as a social symbol to critique. They other guy – the author of the article – was wary. He described a world of bland dinner parties: no strife, no conflict, everyone agreeing to progressive standards, consuming media that was morally homogeneous. He said that wasn’t art.

But of course it’s complicated. Of course representation matters. There are studies coming out every day showing that kids who are given positive role models from their own race, culture, background, grow into healthier self-esteems. And there are still tremendous thumping gears churning night and day to keep the dark dream of white patriarchy vibrant, all the while actively draining color from whatever minority garden in which art or ideas might grow. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It is, in fact, ‘important’ that shows like ‘Insecure’ exist.

I met a guy in Japan who still lives there. He talked about America, about Wisconsin, about how everything was bleaker back home. He spoke fluent Japanese and knew how to party. He’d buy the seasonal chocolates at the corner store and ring the bell and clap three times at Buddhist shrines. He wasn’t Japanese but he wanted to be. I think something similar is going on with progressive art. You play an educated left-leaning American of whatever color one song by Kendrick Lamar, then one song by Young Dolph and nine times out of ten they’re picking Kendrick. Why? Because he’s able to sanitize a struggle so it’s palatable. Like Martin Luther King, Jr, he’s a great man with great words and zero blemishes, an idol, a god, in-human, unattainable, safe to aspire to because implicit in his image is the fact that you – 35, two jobs, disenfranchised by voter registration laws, behind on credit cards and paying half your income to rent, probably black but maybe even poor and white – will never get to life that life of freedom. Implicit in a blanket admiration for non-white art is the fact that these aren’t complicated, messy, people – these are fancy macaws and peacocks locked in carefully hidden cages, putting on a show for the upper class.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

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“This version of the culture wars casts Beyoncé as the goddess of empowerment who shan’t be blasphemed. She offers herself as both deity and politician, someone here to embody and correct.” – Wesley Morris, The Morality Wars, linked here

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