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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Coffee Log, Day 218

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

I woke up early to listen to ‘Tha Carter V,’ the five-year delayed album by Lil Wayne that finally released today. I was excited. I’ve been listening to Wayne for 7 years, he opened my mind to Hip-Hop, to racial and social inequities in America, to a lot of things. His work’s made me a better writer.

By track three something struck me: ‘Tha Carter V’ is an album about failed suicide attempts. That caught me off guard.

In June, Anthony Bourdain hung himself in a French hotel. A few decades ago, Kurt Cobain shot himself. Before that, Hemingway shot himself, Malcolm Lowry shot himself, Virginia Woolf drowned herself with pockets full of stones. Wayne’s a part of a long tradition of self-harming artists. On my worst days, I’m a part of that tradition, too.

There was a Pep Rally sophomore year, High School. It was midday and mandatory. In between third and fourth periods they lined us up and shot us down the hall like pinballs. We took seats. I sat with friends. The Football team rushed out. The band played. The gym smelled like scented candles and puberty. I remember watching the crowd around me. When the quarterback talked, they jumped. When the cheerleaders flipped, they hollered. It was a hot day. Fall would hit us late that year. You could see steel streetlights through the windows. I stopped watching anything but the steel. I can’t explain the feeling – why it hit me, why it crawled up the streetpoles to perch like a vulture, why I noticed it at all – but as the band stumbled our fight song, and the teams flew their colors, and the girls twirled in a whirlwind of pom-poms, I knew – knew – I’d never find a way say the things I wanted. I’d never find words to match the horror of the steel streetpoles.

So I took out my house keys and dug one in my wrist.

All in all, it was a weak attempt. One thing I’m happy to call myself weak about. I didn’t bleed too much – got a little light-headed, felt a buzz in my left hand for a few weeks after – but it wasn’t lost on me that I’d tried. That afternoon comes back to me now and then, sometimes briefly, sometimes in the sixth glass of wine.

On the last track of Carter V, Wayne relates a time he took his mom’s gun from the closet and shot himself in the chest. He was 12. He survived. Later that year, he started rapping with Birdman.

Being strong is asking for help. Being strong is loving yourself anyway. Nothing’s more human than wanting to run away from yourself. Nothing human – nothing great – happens if you do.

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

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“I shot it, and I woke up with blood all around me
It’s mine, I didn’t die, but as I was dying
God came to my side and we talked about it
He sold me another life and he made a profit/(prophet).” – Lil Wayne, Let it All Work Out

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Coffee Log, Day 181

Hi.

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

2010 changed me. I spent my summer on Greek oceans, the autumn falling in love. I had my first flirtations with teaching when I worked with America Reads and Counts; I wrote two stories and dreamed up others I wouldn’t write for another eight years. Duke had been rocky the first two years, but by Junior I had hit my stride. December had me sharing beds with the first woman I really loved. I guess you could say I was living a rosy-colored campus life.

Tonight, I went to a showing of ‘The Night is Short, Walk on Girl.’ It’s a Masaaki Yuasa film, animated, vibrant, a spiritual follow up to a short anime series from 2010 called ‘The Tatami Galaxy.’ The characters keep their faces from eight years ago but their lives and personalities have changed. The male lead is brasher; the heroine steals the show. The movie – like much of Yuasa’s work – is like tripping down a flight of stairs with two tall drinks in your hand, only to have a revolving group of strangers lift you up. It was good, not great, but it burrowed into me. I’d fallen hard for – and seen echoes of myself in – ‘The Tatami Galaxy’ as it aired in 2010.

I get stuck some mornings noticing the way I shave my beard. It’s semi-precise, consistent, but nothing like the pictures I see from college. I don’t remember when I changed length and blades, don’t remember why. It can be hard to stick the continuity between then and now. A small change, but keep putting coins in the piggy bank and eventually you have to empty it to make room for something new.

My favorite scene in ‘The Night is Short, Walk on Girl’ has four men stuffing down super spicy ramen in a big red tent. They’re competing to win rare books. Some want money, some want love, one is an old author trying to reclaim his first manuscript. Just as the competition finishes, the God of Used Book Markets pulls a string and the tent comes undone, the red tarp vanishing, all the old books flapping away like squawking birds. “I forbid the hoarding of rare books!” says the God, paraphrasing. The four men chase after their dreams, going their separate ways after having stumbled together. A few find their books. Others don’t.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“My still-as-of-yet rose-colored self was cut to the quick by that which is called reality.” – The Tatami Galaxy

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