Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 222


Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

On the way to the restaurant, E asked me what was wrong. I didn’t know what she was talking about. I said: “What are you talking about?” She pointed at my fingers, which were rubbing up on each other. We were at a red light. I had my hands in my lap. I’d worn a notch in two of my fingernails.

That’s when I realized I was sitting with depression.

It was a low day. A crook-in-your-neck kind of day. Gray clouds, I had to come into work this morning, our quarterly shift on a Saturday. I spent three hours talking to different coworkers and scrolling through the news, it was slow. I went home at lunch and stared at a black computer screen for a few minutes before fixing food. The dishes are piling up on my desk. I’ve got two pairs of shoes lop-sided, out of where they’re supposed to go.

But here’s the magic – this whole time, I hardly even noticed the downs; it took E pointing out my fingers to get the grasp that today I had depression. A year ago, I would have been locked in my room since morning, closed curtains.


It’s kind of spooky.

I’ve been on two medications for three months now, bupropion and escitalopram. I was on each individually but that wasn’t working. The bupropion picks me up in the mornings while the escitalopram keeps me level. At least that’s what the doctor tells me. And I believe it, because there are days like today where I’m struck all of a sudden by how normal I feel despite the pressures going on inside me. I’ve spent my whole life upped and downed. For a long time, I saw that as my creative side, the quintessentially me. But like I told you all on this Coffee Log back in May, those days of identifying with my disease had to be over. Now, it feels like they really are.

It’s not just the medicine. It’s a lot of different things, different people, some coming, some gone. And it’s all of you – you see me when you read this, and like a dutiful Existentialist, I’m obliterated by your gaze. It’s helped me pick up the pieces. So thank you – I appreciate the audience.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 123


Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

There’s a certain kind of smell that only surfaces in early evening. It’s got to be light out, but not so light that you’re comfortable putting one foot in front of the other. It’s got to be warm, not hot, and cool, not cold. There should be leaves on the trees but not so many leaves that you can’t see the shapes scurrying through the branches. Somewhere within walking distance – but out of sight – must be a moderately busy road.

The back of your lover’s neck coaxed out from under the covers, eight hours of untouched time still sticking to it. That’s the smell.

I’m off one drug and onto another. The past week has been exhausting, a bad reaction, a panic attack without the panic. I’ll start the new drug, an SSRI, on Monday, and who knows whether it will help me, or change me, or do anything at all to me, but I’m interested (and a little apprehensive) about the ride.

There’s no one answer to life. But there are evenings where the air smells like old memories, and that’s usually enough.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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My day is done, and I am like a boat drawn on the beach, listening to the dance-music of the tide in the evening.

Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 101


Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

The psychiatrist was wearing two rings and a gold watch. One ring was set with a large, red stone. Not a ruby, it was more solid than that.

We sat in the brown office together. He had spreadsheets pulled up on his computer but I couldn’t tell if they had to do with me. I was occupied with two things, mostly – whether or not the heat in the office was making sweat visible as it was stringing down my armpits; and how not to get devoured by the big blue leather couch.

It was a breezy meeting. In at 4:15, out by 4:45. I liked that.

The only thing notable about the psychiatrist, aside from his jewelry, was the way he sat. He kept both legs planted on the ground. Pay attention to people resting and you’ll notice not many of them do that. It’s much more comfortable if your knees are crossing.

As I told him my life in bullet points, he’d lean forward or back with his elbows on his knees. He’d go close when he was asking questions and lean back for dramatic moments. He didn’t say much. He seemed more comfortable with the explaining – here’s where all the cords connect, and this is what we’ll do to cut them. He had the same joy listing side effects as your fattest uncle does cutting into thanksgiving pies.

Behind the computer, about two feet deeper on the desk, was a miniature bookshelf. They were big books, medical, and most were red. The way the sun was going through the office window, those reds looked much like a bed of old, withered flowers, or rusted tools, or the jewel on the psychiatrist’s ring. It made me think there must be a connection between that color and the man, that he was so confounded by it he had to surround himself. We’re drawn most deeply to things we can’t quite figure out. We want to be known by the shiny charms that are just a bit too expensive for us. Always stepping two feet further than the last man you saw walk the diving board, stiff as death and chest extended, close to slipping towards deep, blue water.

At the end of the visit, he prescribed me pills to treat a mild, chronic depression. He said they’d make things feel like something instead of nothing. I wanted to ask him what it ought to feel like to see red books cast in summer sunlight, but didn’t get the chance. After a month of taking the pills, at our next visit, maybe I’ll have my own answer.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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Long ago, to isolate themselves from a world of beasts, humans began building cities. But since beasts prowl within stone walls as well as outside them, this did not allay human fears. The truth is, walls guarantee no one’s safety. The place where you lock yourself in and lock all else out – that’s not your home. Your home is sometimes a place you travel long and far to find.

Marcin Blacha, Head Writer for ‘The Witcher 3’, a videogame; quote given by character Geralt of Rivia

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 72


Coffee: Pike Place from the Apartment Office Lounge

When I was fifteen, my parents took me to see a psychiatrist. This was on recommendation from my counselor. I was pissed.

“Drugs? Really?”

Yeah, yeah, I was depressed, and yeah, yeah, I’d cut a pin-sized hole in my wrist, but DARE or some more darkly personal fear had given me the notion that psychoactive drugs were bad news, period. Still, I was fifteen, so I was obliged to go.

The psychiatrist was a nice guy. His office was in Chapel Hill. He made me take some tests, talked to me for an hour, recommended me a book (Sophie’s World, which would lead me a few years later to a degree in philosophy). It was a pleasant time. It felt productive. At the end of the visit, he tells me that my brain is most likely not producing enough serotonin. That’s when he tells me I should take these pills.

“Fuck no,” I said. “I’d spit them out.” I really meant it. To his credit, the guy saw I was serious, and to their credit, my parents did too. I never took the medicine.

That was fifteen years ago.

This morning I woke up at 5am unintentionally. I’d gotten to sleep at 1am. Thin white serpents of self-doubt had wriggled into bed with me. I’m pretty liberal about who shares my bed, but the serpents were too much.

So I spend the morning going from one room to another trying to find where I’d put myself the night before. Not in the kitchen, cause I had no appetite to eat. Not in the bathroom, because I had no strength to disrobe for the shower. And not at the dining-room nook I often write at because my ideas were still grappling with the serpents, numbed by their poison, strangled by their old white skin.

For the past fifteen years, I’ve worked hard to change myself. By now, many of the changes are tangible. I work out regularly. I eat better. I write daily. I’m more open-minded. I’m a proud man. I can proudly say I’ve taken every bit of advice to better suit my lifestyle to a disrupted brain. And – though it’s difficult for me – I want to proudly say none of that has been enough.

I made an appointment with a psychiatric practice in North Raleigh. Their earliest date was a month from now so that’s what I took. When the lady asked whether I was looking for medicated treatment or talk therapy, I paused for a second, got this stammer I get sometimes when I’m nervous, and cleared my throat: then I said “Medicated, for sure.”

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

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It’s not a silly question if you can’t answer it.

Jostein Gaardner, Sophie’s World

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 27


Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

For two minutes in the cutting 7pm cold, I saw a long-haired white and black cat. It was sitting on some stones.

I had dinner at a Thai restaurant. Spicy curry. It was full of carrots and snap peas. Who puts carrots and snap peas in their curry?

This afternoon, I looked at the dishwasher and saw it was full. I considered making it empty. I’ve got dishes to put in. In the end, I didn’t do anything other than look at it.

My brain isn’t screwed in right. I’ve been working, writing. I’ve been successful. I’ve spent time with friends. I’ve gotten drinks with coworkers. I’ve walked in the rain and watched black crows take cover. I’ve done the things I love. I’m not at all happy. It’s a weird feeling. Admitting it feels weirder. But I think it’s important to be honest about uncomfortable things, otherwise no-one else will feel comfortable being honest about uncomfortable things.

You could call it depression.

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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On a bare branch a crow is perched – autumn evening


Coffee Log, Day 280


Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, single-serve packet; work coffee again; what can I say, it’s that kind of week.

Sometimes, life takes you to a Subway.

I imagine that one thing will survive the heat-death of the universe and that is the puffy, flaky, styrofoam rolls of ‘Italian’ bread they serve at the Subways. It’s marginally food. You eat it and are somehow left both full and hungry.

But that’s kind of the point: sometimes the only thing to do is start embalming yourself with cheap, sterile, questionable food. There are weeks where every time you stand, another thing knocks you down, so why not relent to it, give in, appreciate a numb, corporate fatigue deftly wrapped in bright colors?

I’d rather be drinking whiskey but even that is a little too lively for me now. Thank you, ma’am. Yes, I’ll take it with mustard.

Novel Count: 14,713 words

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

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The father was long and thin, with a red face framed in white whiskers, and looking like a living sandwich, a piece of ham carved like a face between two wads of hair. – Guy de Maupassant

Coffee Log, Day 213


Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

I should have shaved today but instead I got up, pissed, swished, lay in the shower. The curtain cut the tub in hues of Orange Julius – fake and sweet. I lay there until the water irritated my skin. Too hot. I toweled off and said: “Today I’m gonna do it; Today I’m gonna write.” I made coffee and watched a show. It ended; I closed the browser; cursor on the desktop; I clicked Steam. Two hours got played by video games. At noon, I was sweating from the coffee.

I tried leaving the house, tried to get some sun on me, but a day-trip to wherever turned into fifteen minutes of grocery shopping. At home, the apartment was blacked over by cloud cover. I put everything away and took a book to the deck. Not Autumn, which I can’t stand (maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime), but the book I bought yesterday in Chapel Hill – Cherry, by Nico Walker. It’s about a bank robber and it’s written by a guy who robbed 10 banks. Both of these facts I find funny as a Teller.

I stole the book to our deck and destroyed some cobwebs. All that industry, wasted. I read Cherry and kept reading, drank stale LaCroix, a day bleak and wonderful, later I had some beers. I kept thinking to myself how no-one might talk to me again, how the bird’s always gone from the tree by the time you look for it, how people don’t plant flowers anymore. Then I took a walk and it felt like Autumn. All in all, it became a good day.

Depression runs in my family. Don’t feel shame if it also runs in yours.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker (fifty pages in and it’s brilliant; a contemporary Bukowski, only the voice is clean where Bukowski’s had a rasp; Walker’s using the proceeds to pay back the 10 banks he robbed; he’s still serving two years in federal prison)

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“You’ll have friends. Usually it’s nothing.” – Nico Walker, Cherry


Coffee Log, Day 64


Coffee: Organic Bolivian Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand; Oh it’s great! It’s sunny, but not in that obnoxious way, more like the best sun in Winter, where you wake up expecting to shiver out of your pajamas but then you pull the curtains and feel your skin prick for the first time since early December. Highly recommend.

July 2013 had me in Petoskey, MI. About a century before that, Hemingway had it instead, and so I took the town at first not knowing the heritage, falling in love with the quaint downtown and brick community college (dreams of teaching there that are still just dreams) and a pretty girl who was working part time in a pie-shop with white flour in her hair and then a stormy pier on Lake Michigan with cold, cold water that talked to the weakest parts in me and asked me to jump. I didn’t jump – and if I had, it wouldn’t have hurt me. It was a ten foot drop – but I’d be lying if I said the thought of dying didn’t stalk the back of my mind. Only after the pier did I read up on the town and when I saw it was still haunted by Hemingway my fatal thoughts made sense.

There’s a parasitic force in Art that tells you to suffer. Too many idols took the easy end of a double-barrel like Hemingway. I believed for a while that happiness meant bad writing and I have dear friends who’ve bought the same cheap story. I don’t know where the source is, if it’s something about the personality prone to artists or something in a culture that likes to vicariously suffer, but it’s a real phenomenon. Thankfully, I’ve been enough of a failure at committing myself to the downward spiral that I’ve aged and grown and worked and matured and now I’ve come to realize that the real ingredients to good art are consistency, composure, a little cynicism, and – yes – happiness. To any fellow artist reading this, I encourage you to spit out the line the world’s been trying to feed you and find something grittier, harder, more long-lasting to chew.

July 2013 had me in Petoskey. I was brokenhearted and desperate. From beyond a coward’s grave, Hemingway bobbed in the cold Michigan water. I don’t know why I turned around but I’m glad I did. He can have the hell that waits for him. I’m happy to live longer and find the more elusive path to health and good art.

Currently Reading:
The Pardoner’s Tale, by John Wain

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“You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises