Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 139

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

There was this kid in elementary school that I looked up to. We’ll call him T. He was smart. He was funny. He was my first (school) friend. We had our classes together because our last names were close. In kindergarten, I remember how we’d have recess on the front lawn and chase each other to the far tree. It was the one by the road. It was the boundary of our existence. Getting there meant you couldn’t go any further.

A few years later, in third grade, I started getting pulled to AIG courses. T was in AIG too. We started on he same track but they separated us. I was moving faster, I was a good tester. T’s parents didn’t like that, which he told me. My parents didn’t like that T’s parents didn’t like that, which they told me. But most importantly, it seemed like he and I didn’t have anything to talk about anymore.

I was writing poetry. I was pulled from class for two hours each day to learn typing in the computer lab, and I learned typing by writing stories. My parents helped me put the poetry into contests and I won. These were regional contests, my words were read by people I’d never met, people I’d never see. Meanwhile, T didn’t talk to me anymore.

I’ve gotten a few comments from you all on recent posts and I appreciate them. I haven’t responded, though, because I forgot a long time ago how to respond.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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great writers are indecent people

they live unfairly

saving the best part for paper.

good human beings save the world

so that bastards like me can keep creating art,

become immortal.

if you read this after I am dead

it means I made it.

Charles Bukowski, The People Look Like Flowers at Last

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 87

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I read part of an article about Camille Billops, an artist. I only read part because it’s been that kind of day – partial. I’m don’t know if I’ll ever finish it, but what I read left an impression.

Camille Billops was a prominent artist who started her work in the 60’s. She created and advocated for black art through and beyond the civil rights movement. But the point of the article was: at the cusp of her career, she took her four-year-old daughter to a Children’s Home and left her there.

There’s no way to know what someone else is thinking, even if they tell you. We hardly understand ourselves and rarely vocalize the parts we do. But at least publicly, Billops’s choice to give up her daughter was a drive for independence, a rejection of the mandate for motherhood that trapped and continues to trap women, and a choice to give up family in order to freely pursue her art.

It’s the last one that gets me.

I think a lot about balance – work-life, freedom-responsibility, healthy eating-loving chocolate – and in particular about the balance between everything else and art. Because the split really is that big, isn’t it? When you’re in the act of creating something, that’s all you’re doing. It’s all of you – all your life, love, blood and energy. You take people and places that are vividly real and send them through the woodchipper. If your art is going to have power, you have to feed it everything precious in your life for fuel. Billops fed it her daughter. Jury’s out what sorts of things I’m burning for fuel.

I was at the Nasher a few years ago seeing an exhibit on Southern artists. There was a piece, a vivid portrait, abstracted. My friend and guide told me the artist had a sad story. He’d gotten so caught up in his art that he’d withdrawn from his family, gotten depressive, and driven his loved ones away. My friend thought that was awful. I did too, but it made a lot of sense to me.

But maybe it’s all a trick. Maybe that reclusive tendency to sacrifice your friends and family to some myth of ‘genius’ has darker motives. You’ve got to have something in the first place in order to give it up. And if you can give up damn near everything and still survive, that implies you’re living with a modicum of success or comfort backing you. The artistic rejection of the world is always an act of privilege. It’s something that says: “I don’t need you.” You might climb the mountain, but you do so without making room at the summit for anyone else, and with some sense of security that you’ll make it there. The ‘starving artist’ is a myth. No-one has time to both starve and make art.

Anyway, that was all a long and rambling way to say that art and ethics sometimes collide and that’s not easy. Today was also a rambling day.

Currently Reading: NOTHING! Couldn’t get back into Bourdain, no matter how much I tried; will pick a new book soon

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In the nearly 60 years since Camille Billops made the decision to give up her daughter, she has become an internationally recognized artist and filmmaker.

Sasha Bonet, The Artist Who Gave Up Her Daughter, published in Topic Magazine

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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