Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 47

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

Does it make any sense to grieve for a building? Or a city? I don’t know.

A little past 10:00am today there was a gas explosion in downtown Durham. A worker nicked a line while drilling holes for new internet cables. At least that’s the current story.

Honestly, it’s a mess. The mayor says they don’t really know all the details. The fire chief is still fighting the fire. The explosion was sudden and violent and it ripped a whole row of old buildings. One person died. 17 more are in the hospital.

Like any disaster, I’m concerned for the people. Human lives are worth more than a bunch of bricks. If I’m being honest, though, it’s the overhead pictures of downtown Durham smoldering that really get to me.

Cities are special. They take on a soul, the old buildings especially. A thousand people passing the same facade for fifty years imprints a bit of their emotions on the structure. Homes for our old ghosts.

The building that shattered was around the corner from a tex-mex place where I’d meet my parents when they came to visit me at college. More recently, I drove down that road on the way to meet a date at Fullsteam. I remember looking at the building – which had offices on top and a coffee shop on the bottom – and thinking ‘who would ever go here?’ It had that dangerous combination of being both too close and too far from everything else.

Gone now.

Of course, they’ll build it back up. They’ll check the lines this time to make sure none are too exposed. They’ll build a new building like they’re already doing all over the city. They’ll make something flashy, fresh, maybe even nice. But the memories that had taken residence in the old bricks are truly gone – melted glaciers.

Again, the most important thing is the human tragedy. I feel for the loss, wish them quick recoveries. But I don’t know those people. I did know the building.

Novel Count: 37,208

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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I think one of the primary goals of a feminist landscape architecture would be to work toward a public landscape in which we can roam the streets at midnight, in which every square is available for Virginia Woolf to make up her novels.

Rebecca Solnit


Coffee Log, Day 264

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand; tastes like the pine needles you used to watch your mother bunch around the trunk of every tree in the yard.

There’s a ridiculous corner of the apartment building just outside my window. It’s a hodgepodge of laminate vinyl siding, wooden bracing and brick. A few kids with Legos might come up with it. I’m pretty enamored with the corner.

2018 has felt fragile. People and places you loved have had .45 barrels lowered at them or have been consumed by political flames. In some cases, the flames are more visceral. How many times have the California fires trumped themselves for ‘most deadly’ this year?

I think it’s important to keep your eyes open to the tragedy. Even more important to keep focused on the tragedies you could prevent. However, sometimes it’s also necessary to step back and find yourself amazed at the vast, human complexity that we’ve built up and are scared to lose.

Take my apartment corner: how many hands had held her before she was born? There were architects, designers. There were the workers who shaped the bricks. Someone chopped tall trees in the Amazon for this corner. A woman in a labcoat theorized the perfect vinyl. All those pieces ticked away independently until they came together, only to realize everyone had set their clocks the same. Now I live inside it, the product of so many simple, honest, hard, human labors.

When you’re brushing your teeth or straightening your tie in the mirror, realize that you’re looking at one small, essential part of a triumph.

Novel Count: 8,314 words

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

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“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” – Winston S. Churchill

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