I’d let my hair grow out. Today, I cut it. I shaved it down. Short on the sides, a little longer on top. I’d gotten bogged down by the weight of it. It was the longest I’d had my hair in years. M said it looked nice, which was fine, and made me feel good. There was gray in it. I don’t mind the gray, but without it I feel younger.
I’m not young. I’m 30. Anyone older probably scoffs at that. But I’ve lived long enough to start forgetting things, like where I was that Christmas, or my cousin’s face. Youth, to me, is about everything compressed into a single moment, so you can’t help but feel that anything you think or do is vital. Age takes a bit of that vanity away.
I saw a flock of geese by a local pond. The pond is downhill of a Lutheran church. On Sundays, the worshippers whisk off the parking lot and across the street to Trader Joe’s. The geese were the only members of the congregation to stay.
I’m still in the middle of studying. It’s lots of slideshows and pink highlighters. I’m lucky for it, lucky for the time, lucky for the opportunity, and that luck makes me anxious. We all want to believe that our actions are the sole progenitors of our success, but another thing about getting older, if you’re doing it right, is to realize that so much of life is set in motion outside of you. I’m fortunate to have my clothes, my bed, my family, my skin. The whole world wraps in conspiracy to push me into soft spaces, and that just makes me wonder who it’s leaving behind.
The first snow stuck to the ground since two December’s ago. The news said it had been four hundred days. Last year was a hot year, hottest on record. I live in North Carolina at the edge of the coastal plain. I remember winter, when it was something that shook through violently once or twice a year, icing up the trees.
All I can talk about now is climate change. At least, sometimes it feels that way. Back in the Al Gore era we knew what was happening, and before that too, but none of it was personal. Greenland’s glaciers don’t belong to you, not even if you live there. Something that big is always going to be closer to God, so when it starts dying, even when you see the pictures, it doesn’t feel real.
But you light a couple states on fire and burn lawnmower smoke in late December, reality sinks in.
Our planet’s lights are going out. One by one, every window in the skyscraper, this or that species dies, floods rise, reefs are bleached. A country woman can’t catch fish the way she used to, not to mention the other, darker tolls of environmental poverty. In the city you’re safe enough, if you’ve got money, but even the price of luxury comes with a caveat, that you can’t leave those beautiful apartments anymore because it’s too hot out, or it’s thundering, or insert some other kind of global narrowing. No wonder we all take to twitter. Some of us are stuck melting without shelter or freezing in the cold, and the more fortunate can’t afford to risk a trip outside.
The coronavirus is interesting. People are rallying around it like cats take mice. There’s a lot of talk of it slowing, that it won’t like the warmer weather or the coming spring, but what exactly is warmth anymore? How do you define a season when the years are so volatile? And if we can’t get our human heads straight enough to look this climate crisis in it’s face, who’s to say our neighbor virus will face it any different?
I see long wet things crawl outside in the half-drunk hours of morning, knotted fingers, reaching out around all the sullen throats.
Some people say that I should study to become a climate scientist so that I can ‘solve the climate crisis’. But the climate crisis has already been solved. We already have all the facts and solutions. All we have to do is to wake up and change.
Greta Thunberg, No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference
I took a walk. I went m old route down the Cary Greenway, the bit of trail that cuts from Seabrook to Maynard. I haven’t had this walk since summer. he trees were green, the dogs were out, but the grass was dead. It’s been raining. I expected to see snakes. I didn’t see any snakes.
I took a week off from the coffee log. I woke up late this morning and didn’t feel like writing. I made coffee and had a big bowl of cereal. I watched the sun go to noon. My apartment felt comfortable, but a little used, like old boxers. This is the longest I’ve lived somewhere other than the house I grew up in, I’m going on four years. I’ve got a lot of memories. The older I get, the more those memories are just lost socks, nothing too important. You can always buy another pair.
And here I am at Year 3. Today’s the anniversary of the Coffee Log and of Livesay Writing. I’ve thought about stopping. Recently, I’ve been preoccupied. Work’s got it’s eyes on me, and my personal life is full. A couple years ago I was burning alive. That fire’s been put out.
I was looking at my bookshelf yesterday. It was early morning, the sky was just a little cloudy. I counted up the books I’d bought for classes back in college, and for pleasure, and the ones I’ve yet to read. I have nicks of personal mementos on the shelf now. A few cards, a lighter. I looked at those too. I thought: ‘here’s a lot of things to talk about.’ And when I thought that, I figured I might as well give it another year.
Welcome to round 3 of the Coffee Log. We all keep changing, and I don’t have the heart for promises, but I appreciate all your company along the ride.
Coffee: Organic Dark Roast, Don Pablo’s; my last batch of the bag; it’s been with me since Christmas and gave me a good excuse to start using my coffee grinder again; my morning rituals have turned to nighttime and I’m grinding the beans before work; like the coffee, the experience is dark, quiet, and a little lonely, but in that good way that makes you glad to bump into someone the next time you’re out
I went back to Burlington to see some friends. We ate dinner at a new Tex-Mex restaurant that took over an old, abandoned steakhouse. The steakhouse was closed most of my life, shutting it’s doors somewhere around twenty years ago, and it took all those twenty years for someone else to come in and buy it. Inside, the walls were different colors and the stereo played a bit of Latin guitar, but the place was still so much the same as to drag out my old memories. It was the kind of place that gave you bowls of peanuts, and the kind of place that didn’t care if you threw the used shells on the ground.
The one swinging door that’s kept swinging in my old hometown is restaurants. The mall dried up, so did the new shops around Alamance Crossing. Years ago it was a train town and then it was textiles but those are long gone. One sad sock factory keeps running out by Mebane. That hasn’t stopped people from moving in. New apartments go up all the time, only they aren’t for real residents, the kind you can create a community from, but bedroom divers making the day’s commute to Greensboro, a bigger city that houses their 9-to-5’s and social lives, so Burlington is just a cheaper place to sleep.
But we’ve all got to eat so the restaurants keep coming. In my lifetime, I’ve seen so many diners come and ago. Different cuisines, same locations. They just put a Cajun place where the Five Guys used to be. I’d bet a dollar it’ll be gone by next year.
It’s ghostly, maybe, a haunting, that hope keeps coming back to us, like ‘this is somewhere I can be something, start a business, catch some sales,’ only it’s too comfortable on the west-side to want to leave the plush carpets and thick doors, and too poor on the east to have the time to do anything but work at those restaurants, never eat there. Like the messy prelude to a chicken dinner, my town keeps running around with it’s head chopped off.
I ordered like I usually do at Tex-Mex: a bean burrito, a cheese enchilada, some salad and rice. I mixed it all together, topped off with the table’s salsa. It smacked of old hands working knives and spatulas, trying out another new recipe, but with the back door open, so you can see the stars, the only constant, waiting for the next twenty years of letting this lost building rest.
The Secretary-General of the UN Antonio Guterres said that ‘a wind of madness is sweeping the globe.’ What with wildfires barely abating in Australia, ice melting at the poles, and dehumanizing rhetoric amplified everywhere from America to Lichstenstein, it’s hard not to agree with him.
And it’s hard, I guess, to know how to respond.
This time last year I was working on a novel. It would have been my second, it was hot and summery like red clay or okra-colored July. I wanted to write something personal so I wrote about family. I wanted to write something relevant so I was writing about North Carolina, my long-time home. But the novel fizzled out.
I’m making a decent living for the first time in my life. More than decent, really, in that I’m able to save, and able to afford those trips to Atlanta, or my ever-increasing hobby of scale-modeling. I’ve got mixed feelings about this living. When I lost my job at the bookstore two years ago to layoffs, I thought long and hard about my strategy for what I would work toward next. I wanted something semi-permanent, that wouldn’t sweep out from under me, that gave me room to grow. So I took what skills I had working with people and making sales and sought out banking. I’m proud of that part, the decision making, and it feels like a kind of hot-flash now looking back on it, all that time typing cover letters and worrying about what would happen next.
In the July of my life, those hot middle years in my 20’s, everything I did or didn’t do seemed to matter. Whether it was walking to the store or switching jobs, my moments were engulfing, because I was scared, because I was uncertain and because I was tired. Even then, my daily needs were being met better than most of the world, but they were only just being met, and that distinction was important, because I felt like a climber who was staunchly hanging on but hadn’t gotten up the ledge yet. This is normal. I’m not the first person to romanticize minor struggles, or the early years disparagingly called ‘finding-yourself.’ There are wealths of industry built to capitalize that self-obsessed hunger, and wealths more, surely, waiting in the wings to meet the particular tastes of a new generation. But just because it’s an old note doesn’t make it less accurate, and I can’t deny looking back sometimes with a longing.
I stopped writing the novel for two reasons: I was busy, in the literal and immediate way that new responsibilities can give you; and I had stopped seeing myself as the center of my own universe. Every story I’d written was first-person. Every narrator was a bit of me. Like I said, I’d set out to tell a personal story, one that was relevant, but with the new luxury of time and the space to look outside my wants and needs, I no longer felt connected to the story I was telling. I had friends and families with lives worth loving, people coming to me with their own needs and stories every day at work. In 2018, I remember standing in line on a brisk mid-morning in November and voting with hundreds of other Americans and thinking: I’m just one part of this.
The great confounding romance of the contemporary moment isn’t between two people, but between every soft, solitary human body and the rest of the world. However much the Nationalists want to crush it, we’re living globally. I can’t see the lines separating me my American brothers tasked with turning away the suffering from our Southern border. And I can’t find space to move away from the encroaching icebergs. And, of course, the final irony is that I only have the privilege of feeling compassion because my own life, my own needs are covered.
I can’t find that space in my heart for the vanity of being a writer. There are too many other structures to hold fast against the roaring winds.
Tensions were of course high as the last year ended, but we were moving in the right direction in a number of hotspots. We were seeing signs of de-escalation and some measure of progress. That’s all changed. I have spoken recently about winds of hope. But today a wind of madness is sweeping the globe.
January’s almost over. It hasn’t felt much like January, a lot of warm days, not much cold. It makes me wonder how much my memories of January are accurate, and how much is made up – was it always this way? I’ve got this vivid picture of 10th grade – I’m in the Pre-Calc class with a lot of juniors; it’s an old school building and we’re on the second floor; suddenly, in the middle of doing problem sets, it starts to snow. Not a lot, just flurries, but it’s enough to drag us out of our seats and watch it. Cautious cream-colored snowflakes, falling down.
I read this article today about how traditional fishermen around the world are struggling to make ends meet, not just because of the overfishing from big commercial operations, but also – and ironically – from fish protection efforts that mark out sanctuary spots in coves in bays. These spots are supposed to help the ocean’s population recover, they’re blacklisted for fishing and come with stiff fines. But they’re also some of the easiest places to reach when what you own is a one-person row-boat. The commercial fleets can press farther and farther into the open oceans to dig up whatever survivors have swum that far, but people living simply – out of necessity, mostly, though sometimes choice – are punished for trying to take what little they can find close by.
The world’s changing. The seas are warming. We’re left with shorter winters, at least around here. It makes it hard to hope sometimes, but change is change, even when it’s bad, and the only golden rule to change is that it’s unpredictable, so I guess there’s also room to hope.
You [demagogues] are like the fishers for eels; in still waters they catch nothing, but if they thoroughly stir up the slime, their fishing is good; in the same way it’s only in troublous times that you line your pockets.
A goose gaggle had taken over the parking lot outside Trader Joe’s. They were everywhere, and it was hard to drive.
I heard this story from M about how kids in an art project at her museum were asked to think of objects that they used everyday and 99% of them said their smartphone. And when she tried to poke and prod for other answers, there were blank faces, incredible stares, like ‘what else is there?’ These were first graders.
I took my cactus, Herbert, from the old office because no-one was watering him. He doesn’t need much, but he does need some, and now he’s sitting in my bedroom window drinking up the sun. I watered him yesterday and liked the way the dirt clumped around his narrow roots. I liked the idea of touching something, remotely, through a simple act of benevolence, it made me feel like a Messiah, in my own way, the best sort of full-of-yourself. Because the fact is, this cactus needs me, and another fact is, I need him.
What objects do I use everyday? It’s a long list, smartphone’s certainly up there. Then there’s the desk, and chair, and water glasses, the first and the second (I always forget the first glass and pour another before I come to my senses), computer keys. I don’t know what I’d do without any of it. Modern comfort. The first world.
The geese are headed south. They’re only here for a stopover, I don’t know how far they’re going. Geese like to eat and sleep as I do, and they like the company of other geese. They’re a million miles high sometimes, and others they’re on the ground. In a few months they’ll hatch their eggs, New life, new birth. What will the goslings says coming into this world?
Suddenly there they are (the geese), a wavering V headed directly over the hilltop, quite low, beating southward down the central flyway and talking as they pass. We stay quiet suspending our human conversation until their garulity fades and their wavering lines are invisible in the sky. They have passed over us like an eraser over a blackboard, wiping away whatever was there before they came.