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.
Sometimes I daydream about a bonfire. It’s on the side of the creek. It’s in a grass bed. It’s surrounded by trees.
There’re five other men sitting by the fire. I don’t know two of them. I’m friends with the other three. One guy has an orange insulation vest. He’s roasting sausage on metal spits. The other stranger tells stories about when he was young.
In this daydream, I’ve got a sleeping bag but no tent. Nighttime is coming. The sun’s hit the ground and lost some teeth, venus, the north star. I hear the water running through the creek bed but can’t see it. Rushing water gets louder when it’s dark.
I know I need to hide somewhere. My three friends will fall asleep. I’ll be alone with the strangers who tend the fire. I try to grip the old, last season leaves still stuck in the summer grass. I try to build a cover so they can’t find me. But it’s no good. I’m exposed.
Six midnight hours of ravenous flame. In the daydream, I wake up with two tick bites, a light head, and everyone gone.
If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.
Coffee: Light Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand; my friend Z is staying at our apartment for a few days; he bought some coffee because he’d been using mine; I told him he’s always welcome to share because if you can’t share coffee, you can’t share much of anything; still, he bought it, so we shared this new coffee instead; thin like the first sheets of ice in winter; fills up your mouth and then your throat, hangs around in there, warming you up
Sometimes it’s hard to write the Coffee Log. 10:40pm, well past my bed-time on a work night, I’m only now sitting down to type this out. It’s been hard to write the Coffee Log today.
But don’t get the wrong assumptions – nothing’s happened, no tragedies. It was a fine day. A quite morning, friendly afternoon. And maybe that explains it – why it’s been so hard to get my fingers moving on the keyboard – because good, easy things are the toughest to write about. A cream-colored wallpaper, perfectly harmless, hard to pick apart with words.
It’s been five days now that I’ve been on an antidepressant. Welbutrin, specifically. That’s not enough time for the drug to do much (the psychiatrist said it takes at least three weeks) but you can’t help feeling hopeful when you make a change. I spent a couple hours cleaning all the clutter from my room, a couple more sitting by the window thinking about my thinking and wondering if it had changed. Mostly, I wanted to feel something other than that weekend pressure, the free-time skunk of not knowing what to do with myself that’s had me wrapped up for the past few months. Unfortunately, the feeling was still there.
I haven’t been writing much. On weekdays, I can ignore it, because I’m so caught up in my day-job, but as soon as Friday shakes itself over into six a.m. Saturday, I’m feeling lost and fed up when the words won’t come. They say you are only able to write yourself out of a writer’s block, but I’ve been writing, and I think this block is something else.
I spent twenty-nine years seeing myself as an author. In my mind, that meant getting away. A 1930’s expat drowning lonely in France, or someone caught in the in-between spots of cafes and train stations, never settled down. But to live that life you have to be willing to give up something, or have nothing in the first place to give. I work a nine-to-five job to make sure no-one I know has to pay for me, and to sometimes be able to pay for them. I want my bases covered. The ‘author’ in my head has never been me.
How do you write about a life you don’t love? That’s the kind of life most people are living. Low, mundane. I can’t speak for the desperate because I’ve never been it. I can’t speak for the wildly successful either. But everyday I talk to people with decent-paying jobs and lists of problems they’re just-able to cover, loving little of the middling moments, finding most of their joy in five-to-ten minutes of after-work wine sipping. We get along handsomely. It’s easy to see ourselves in each other.
I grew up in a small town that wasn’t small enough to be communal, but wasn’t big enough for opportunities. I moved a few towns over to a place with more money but the same in-the-middle-of-everything scenes. All my art is drawn here, simple, fine things with no color. Something that’s hard to hate but just as hard to love.
The weekend’s almost over. It’s 11:00 pm now. Tomorrow, I’ll jump the work-rhythms until I get to go home. At home, I’ll tidy up, cook dinner, maybe read a book. No time to think about all the books I’m not writing. Those thoughts can wait until the weekend.
Coffee: Pike Place from the Apartment Office Lounge; an overcast, semi-rainy day, unconscionable to not walk somewhere, so I walked to the lounge to get coffee; I was alone in the lounge; by the time I left, it started raining; lightly, though; I dried off at home with the help of the coffee; the taste was a mix of middling hotels and bingo games at the senior center.
Today, I swept the porch. It was still green from this spring’s pollen cyclone. We’ve got three chairs, I wiped down one of them but left the others because spiders had taken them over. If I’m being honest, I was squeamish to swat the spiders but also I didn’t want to hurt them.
So started a long day of going in and out of the apartment. I brought three different drinks to the deck. At 1pm, I tried writing. At 2pm, I tried reading. At 3 I talked to a friend, and at 4 I was just there because I couldn’t figure out where else to be. I was feeling restless. I’ve been feeling restless for a long time.
By six, I’d seen enough from the porch so I took a drive. The clouds had cleared enough to show some bright spots but they hung around the edges like a hopeless lover. There were sun showers and lots of people out walking their dogs. By the end of the trip, I’d crossed Cary. I was all the way in Morrisville. Coming back, the sky was just as complicated.
Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
I stayed in the hammock long after everyone else had gone and even after my host had left to get ready for bed. It was 3 in the morning. I was 18. I was up thinking of stories.
Earlier, as in during the school year, I’d been at this same house sitting on this same porch (though the hammock wasn’t there, they strung that up for the summer) and talked a big game about how you could make a story of anything. I was trying to be encouraging. My host – we’ll call her the Gymnast – had a big speech coming up. It was at our graduation. She was co-valedictorian. She was scared.
So I said: “Take this: a ham sandwich. But the only topping is mustard. Sound interesting?”
She said: “No.”
I went on and on about that sandwich, building up a history with the bread and meat, a poignant love of mustard that had to do with an absent father. She laughed. It was a terrible story and I hadn’t proved anything, but at least it was fun.
In the hammock, I was eaten by mosquitoes. There was netting but some still got in. We’d been coming here weekly, me and all my friends, dying a last summer bleach blonde and bloodshot with late nights before we dispersed to different colleges. We hung out on the porch and in her basement, the Gymnast’s home. We all crowded in the hammock after her parents were asleep because none of us had gotten too cynical about touching another person’s skin.
I tossed and turned. It took a long time for the Gymnast to come back. She was brushing her teeth, I think. A perfect opportunity but I couldn’t think of anything. I knew I needed a better story but it all kept coming up ham and mustard.
When you’re young and not too poor, it’s easy to compress the universe into something pocket-sized. You take it with you everywhere you go, adding bits of lint, fiddling with it when you’re nervous. Back then, I was always nervous so I was always fiddling. I’d look at the moon and think it was two feet tall. I’d talk to the Gymnast and see a lock and a key and something precious behind a door I couldn’t figure out how to open.
I wanted to commemorate that feeling; I wanted the Gymnast to feel it too.
Finally, she came back and sat beside me, just us, she was in blue pajamas. She said: “Hey.” I said “I want to write something.” We sat together another half hour until it was impossible to ignore the mosquitoes, then she walked me out – past the kitchen where we’d baked together, the hallway she drew me in the first time, and out the front door. We said goodbye on her front lawn. I got in an old car that doesn’t exist as a car anymore (scrapped down) and drove home.
Whenever I’m feeling anxious, or stuck with writer’s block, I fiddle with my pocket and get lost in another universe: a dreamy one where I figured out a better story than a ham sandwich; an impossible world that doesn’t get past 18; some time and place where I knew exactly what to say.
Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
Countdown to my reading as featured author at the Third Wednesday Open Mic: WHERE:Fig Raleigh, Raleigh NC WHEN: 04/17/19; 6:30p.m. (open mic sign-ups start at 6:00p.m.) DAYS REMAINING: 2 Come out and support the Coffee Log!
The thunder woke me up twice last night. When I woke up it sounded more like a long checklist of things to do.
Sometimes when I’m bored or lonely I’ll take a long shower. I tilt the nozzle so it’s close to the drain and lie down. I’m not too tall (five-foot-seven) so I fit going lengthwise in the tub. It feels like one of those rides at the water park: a dark, gushing tunnel, no room to move.
In the spring, I like to sit outside and think about smoking. I don’t smoke. Not at all now, not much ever, but nice days are conducive to watching thick burnt embers trail out of your mouth and no matter what I do I can’t seem to shake that image. Burnt lungs in a fine garden. It’s the contrast, maybe.
Later this week I’m going to Richmond. I don’t know what to expect from that trip. A coworker gave me suggestions. I spoke to a hostel worker about parking options over the phone. Secretly, I’m exhausted, and when I think ‘vacation’ I see a dark blanket wrapping me up at home, but I have to go, because if I don’t it means something I’m not ready to admit: that I’m not someone with the energy to get out and move.
I saw a scared cat. She was hiding around the corner from a rough brown dog. I came down the stairs and scared her a little more, then she recognized me and we got along. I’m a scared cat some days, and others I’m coming down the stairs. No telling which I’ll be tomorrow. No choice but to find out.
Novel Count: 38,047
Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes
I read an article about the end of civilization. It was by Luke Kemp, this guy who researches trends in the collapse of old empires. All the trends point to our contemporary world going under. It was scary and persuasive, but of course all doomsayers are.
How many Coffee Logs have I started with the words ‘I read an article?’ I guess I could go through and count them. The number would surely surprise me. My own end of civilization statistics – read, written, posted, done. Blog posts come and go like old Rome. Ah, the good old days…
You probably already guessed why I’m being so reflective – this is it, the big 365. I’ve been doing this thing daily for a whole year. This is the Coffee Log’s first anniversary, and like most anniversary’s, it’s one of those days that seem a lot bigger before you get to it. I brought our favorite store-bought coffee, set the template on the post just right, even turned down the lights as I’m writing this on the old keyboard that we started with. Romantic, huh? All the little things that kept us alive last year.
Here are some memories:
The first post I wrote was 44 words long. So short it would give Twitter shivers. I was drinking Guatemalan and reading ‘Women’ by Bukowski. I’d really only chimed in to say that this site existed. Damn if I haven’t gotten long winded over time.
My most viewed post was just a couple weeks ago on February 12th, 2019 (day 356 for those keeping count). On average, Tuesday’s are my most popular days and 2:00 a.m. is when the bulk of y’all read my site. What are you doing up so late?
When I look back on the year, the post that’s stuck to me the most is June 8th, 2018 – Day 108. That was the day Anthony Bourdain hung himself. Bourdain’s death shook me. He’d been someone I’d looked to for guidance – as an artist and a man. That whole morning I felt like someone was stuffing socks in my mouth. None of my words seemed to matter but I had so much to say. I wrote my Coffee Log on a lunch break. Before I knew it, I was writing about Bourdain. That put me back together. I’ve always been a private person, but here was this immediately public way to express my grief. That changed me. And it changed the Log. Gone were the days of two-to-three liners, blips on a radar. Those blips may have been beautiful, but suddenly it felt like I had something to say.
Here I am, still saying it.
I like two things in my life a little bit better than all the others: writing and coffee. I like to write because it’s in me, an animal, a round sneaking oyster, something picking and prying that keeps on coming open no matter what I do. And I like coffee because it gives me the space to write. These are my two passions. I’m pretty happy when I get to share them. For 365 days – one whole year now – I’ve been sharing them with you. Thanks for sticking around.
Here, let me pour you another cup.
Novel Count: 25,512
Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami