Coffee Log, Day 276

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

I vacuumed the apartment. I started at 4:30pm. I turned all the lights on. I turned the fans on, opened the windows, opened the deck but kept the screen closed. It took about an hour. No-one else was home.

Growing up, my mother did all the cleaning. We were a house of hippies but that didn’t stop the creep of gender norms. I had few chores aside from mowing the lawn and even that I didn’t start until 8 or 9. I kept my toys put away and my bed more or less made. I was responsible for my space but no-one else’s.

Our vacuum is an upright. It’s got a re-usable canister that needs frequent dumping. It stinks when you run it and gets hot as a tea kettle. The cord is long and slippery and there’s no good method of keeping it out of the way. An awkward job. Bad as our footwork was, me and the cleaner made do.

I had a conversation a a couple years ago that changed me. I was sitting in a diner with M. We were coming back from a weekend trip. I don’t remember how the conversation came up, but we were talking feminism and gender roles. We talked about that a lot so maybe the words had just waylaid us. Anyway, I was asking her to tell me if I ever slipped up – if I was dipping into the patriarchal culture that raised me. She got quiet. Then she got upset. And she told me that was the worst trick of all: asking to be lead to justice by a woman’s hand; abjugating your own responsibility; doing the chores when you’re asked, but never taking the initiative; placing the mental burden for equality squarely on a woman’s shoulders.

There’s no framework for a good life. It’s a tremendous privilege to expect someone else to determine what needs doing.

After an hour, the apartment was clean. A few years ago, I would have been at a loss. I would have waited for a woman in my life to ask it of me. Or, barring that, I would have been slobbering for praise when it was done. That’s how you’re raised as an American boy: pampered, on a velvet pillow, with all the world revolving you like the sun.

That’s still in me. It always will be. It’s surely in many of you. But in the end the world believed Copernicus, and you saw yourself as just another planet, one with a blind arrogance to atone for.

Novel Count: 12,212 words

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

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I like upright vacuums. I think canisters are like dragging a dead pig through the house on the end of a rope.

Don Aslett, People Magazine, 1990 interview


Coffee Log, Day 224

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I read a New York Times Magazine article about contemporary art. It started at a dinner table, two friends arguing about the show ‘Insecure.’ One friend liked it, the other didn’t. They both were black men.

The friend who liked it said there were no grounds to question ‘Insecure.’ It’s a TV series by and about black women in America – it’s too important as a social symbol to critique. They other guy – the author of the article – was wary. He described a world of bland dinner parties: no strife, no conflict, everyone agreeing to progressive standards, consuming media that was morally homogeneous. He said that wasn’t art.

But of course it’s complicated. Of course representation matters. There are studies coming out every day showing that kids who are given positive role models from their own race, culture, background, grow into healthier self-esteems. And there are still tremendous thumping gears churning night and day to keep the dark dream of white patriarchy vibrant, all the while actively draining color from whatever minority garden in which art or ideas might grow. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It is, in fact, ‘important’ that shows like ‘Insecure’ exist.

I met a guy in Japan who still lives there. He talked about America, about Wisconsin, about how everything was bleaker back home. He spoke fluent Japanese and knew how to party. He’d buy the seasonal chocolates at the corner store and ring the bell and clap three times at Buddhist shrines. He wasn’t Japanese but he wanted to be. I think something similar is going on with progressive art. You play an educated left-leaning American of whatever color one song by Kendrick Lamar, then one song by Young Dolph and nine times out of ten they’re picking Kendrick. Why? Because he’s able to sanitize a struggle so it’s palatable. Like Martin Luther King, Jr, he’s a great man with great words and zero blemishes, an idol, a god, in-human, unattainable, safe to aspire to because implicit in his image is the fact that you – 35, two jobs, disenfranchised by voter registration laws, behind on credit cards and paying half your income to rent, probably black but maybe even poor and white – will never get to life that life of freedom. Implicit in a blanket admiration for non-white art is the fact that these aren’t complicated, messy, people – these are fancy macaws and peacocks locked in carefully hidden cages, putting on a show for the upper class.

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

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“This version of the culture wars casts Beyoncé as the goddess of empowerment who shan’t be blasphemed. She offers herself as both deity and politician, someone here to embody and correct.” – Wesley Morris, The Morality Wars, linked here

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Coffee Log, Day 209

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s

I read a piece about the restructuring of Barry Farm, a historically black (and historically poor) community in Washington, DC. The buildings have been bought up, rezoned, there are plans to make the place a ‘mixed-income’ community. The article follows a photographer who’s been taking pictures to catalogue Barry Farm before the change. She interviews residents. One girl, Dasani Watkins, a recent high-school salutatorian, says: “Yes, bring the change to the neighborhood, but bring it for those people. Don’t push those people out and bring it for someone else.”

Afterward, I read another article, this one about kissatens (showa-era coffee shops) in Tokyo. They’re on their way out. The writer toured a couple backstreets, interviewed the proprietors, all of whom were over 70. One man counted customers on his two hands, and when they asked him why he stayed open without any business he said: “I wouldn’t know what else to do.” The shops are wet bones in tar pits. When the owners are gone, investors will snatch the buildings quick as a funeral.

Basically, change comes to everyone, but not everyone equally. Whatever side of the world you’re on, someone’s stacking you up as a winner or loser. I’m sure people will profit in the new Barry Farm. I’m sure some of them will deserve it. But where do you go when the stones you built your whole life on are ground into someone else’s gravel driveway?

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“It wasn’t like a “see you later.” It was like “goodbye” because you’re not certain if you’re ever going to see these people again. It’s kind of sad — you grew up with them and now they’re gone. They’re going to different neighborhoods, and you don’t know if you’ll ever have that same community again. People don’t talk to each other in [my] new neighborhood. They don’t speak at all.” – Dasani Watkins, quoted from the article “As A D.C. Public Housing Complex Faces Redevelopment, One Teenager Reflects,” by Becky Harlan

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Coffee Log, Day 182

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro, Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

A few days ago, the blood of my great-great-grandfather was shoved violently into summer soil. I couldn’t be happier.

It’s gotten national press so I’m sure you’ve heard about it: Monday night, August 20th, Americans tied ropes around the head of Silent Sam – a famous statue memorializing the dead confederates who’d left their studies at UNC to fight the Union – and pulled him down. In April, Ms. Maya Little had mixed red paint with her own blood and marked Sam with it. It was a fair warning, raw art, the State had ample time to dismantle its own awful legacy, but like most things to do with entrenched power, nobody raised a finger. Monday, people got tired of waiting for justice that would never come.

I’ve seen a lot of pushback. Internet hailstorms of ‘respect history!’ or ‘honor the dead!’ A vicious funeral, cries of violence against the protesters, Americans gasping for the right to strip breath from other Americans – we re-enact the Civil War on message boards, painting bleak pictures, goading and goading until some white man or scared cop decides to paint history in three dimensions, black body canvases.

I’m sympathetic to the feeling of watching your past torn down. It’s my past too. But behind the best lace curtains, the wide summer porches, the blue shingles, there’s a black man bent over a table with his shirt off, dancing a waltz with your great-great-grandfathers’ whip. So no, not every student of grand ole’ UNC marched off with blood and slavery slavering out their mouths, but when they loaded their muskets and took aim they still still stood as bastions against humanity, against peace, against justice for all Americans.

There’s no honor for a nazi, and no honor for a confederate son.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“A statue that advocates violence against us, that honors slave owners. At this statue I have felt degraded, and I have also been harassed. I have been surveilled by police. I have been called a n****r. I have been told that I will be hung from the tree right above Silent Sam.” – Maya Little, interview on Democracy Now, https://www.democracynow.org/2018/8/22/meet_maya_little_unc_student_whose

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Coffee Log, Day 166

Hi.

Coffee: Fair Trade Five County Espresso Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

If you couldn’t tell, the title of this blog is a nod to Star Trek. “Captains Log, Stardate Such-and-Such…” Some of my earliest memories are the opening credits to The Next Generation. My parents were fans. They let me watch while the series aired its last few seasons. I got to stay up past my bedtime. I was young – three or four – but I remember the spaceship glow, the music notes, the stars flying by as the Enterprise jerks into hyperspace. Confetti. The future seemed inevitable.

This week, Patrick Stewart announced he’ll be revising his role as Picard in a new series. I’m not much for sequels, not much for TV these days, but I think we need another Next Generation.

We should aspire to the Federation. Gene Roddenberry was on to something. A fiction born in the long summers of the 60’s, anticipating the power of love and change, Star Trek sees the world that’s embraced the beautiful but rarely realized American Dream – freedom and equality born of cooperation. Star Trek’s heart is Kirk and Uhara’s kiss; it’s Worf – a refugee and immigrant – given as much esteem as the white men he works with.

The troubles on Earth in 2018 are so visceral that space looks far away, but because of that ‘space’ becomes even more important – a distant but achievable future; something built on trust and love and humanity; a turning point, wo/mankind’s next generation.

I’ll grab the popcorn, Patrick, and strap in for star travel.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“Things are only impossible until they are not.” – Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation

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Coffee Log, Day 133

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

How can I celebrate America in 2018?

It was ’07; July; I was away for the summer at Governor’s School, a preppy, open-minded camp for academic kids in NC. I had a roommate I rarely saw, a kid who liked swimming and tennis and picking his nose. One night, before going to bed, he talked about the French Revolution. He’d been learning about it in some seminars. He said the French had it so much better than the Americans, chopping heads, etc etc. I told him he was wrong. The kid kept me up for two hours while we argued. He was so convinced that neither of us were allowed to sleep.

Anyway, what I told him was: America’s ideals are perfect. We stand for an optimistic freedom. We give everyone equal power, equal voices, and believe so much in the good in people that we have confidence in a collective outcome.

In 2018, that collective looks shaky. We claw at each other. The one value of our current civil strife is that it’s showing us just how far from the American ideal we’re sitting. Much of the country’s never known equality; those who did knew it the way ancient Athens did – that ‘freedom’ means rich and ‘equal’ means man.

My family likes to brag that one of our ancestors rode the boat with Washington when he crossed the Delaware. I’m skeptical of the story’s veracity, but not of it’s message: revolution’s in my blood. On this Fourth of July, I’ll keep my eyes open and chest poked out. I’ll believe in the America a bunch of immigrant landowners accidentally dreamed up two hundred fifty years ago, not the country she’s turned out to be.

Donate to RAICES, vote in November, talk to your neighbor, film the cops.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“Until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

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Coffee Log, Day 73

Hi.

Coffee: Organic Bolivian Blend, Trader Joe’s brand

They canceled the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. It’s the first time since WWII that they’ve done so. Reason being is a good one: mass scandals of bigotry, fraud, and sex abuse by the committee members. Female voices were silenced or worse. I’m glad the prize is canceled. I’m also heartbroken.

I grew up hearing the word ‘Nobel’ as one hears the train coming from a mile away. It was ripe, exciting, and I saw myself boarding imminently. I know that’s a big goal but I’ve always dreamed big. At first, I wanted the Nobel Peace Prize. Some kind of white savior complex, mixed with a bit of mishandled chivalry, but as I’ve grown and grounded I’ve looked at my name in the lights of the Nobel Prize for Literature. No significant expectations of achieving that place but the goal’s kept me pushing. Hearing the news of its 2018 cancellation flips a dirty page of reality.

I worry often that the things I love should have no place in the world; or more darkly, that the things I love contribute to the world’s wrongs. I admire Hemingway and eat up Bukowski and there’s no arguing that both of them participate in a culture that dominates women, even if both do so with honesty and reflection. In my personal life, I’ve sought love and family that’s structured and possessive and I struggle daily with how to evolve that love into something more just.

I don’t blame myself for being cultured but I do take blame for every time I participate in that culture knowingly. I still want to be a writer. I still want prizes, though maybe not the Nobel. It’s tough to see a future without knowing what it’ll give you, but that’s been the lot of oppressed communities forever and it’s about damn time I catch up.

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

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“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places.” – Ernest Hemingway

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