Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 185

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I was at a kitchen table playing Dungeons and Dragons at twelve years old. It was Z’s birthday. His older brother was DM’ing. We were playing 2nd edition.

I’d rolled an Elven wizard who had 2 hit points. First level spells, hardly devastating. I spent most of the game waiting behind the party line as they fought monsters, scouted traps, preciously keeping my few spells for when they were most important. We went through a dark dungeon and came out of it. Then we met some merchants. Our warrior decided to rob them. I couldn’t handle that so I cast my first spell. I got him with a magic missile and it killed him (he’d been hurt in the dungeons). Promptly after that, our ranger got me back with an arrow to my 2HP skull. Two party members down and no high-level priests around to revive them, we all called it quits on the game. Some of the other kids were pissed. I’d put a stop to the night.

Every year I get older seems to muddy my convictions. I talk to Trump supporters and try to find the places they tuck away the good. Maybe its that I’ve had a longer life to live out my own imperfections – mistakes and missteps, tumbling off of high highways with no way of getting back.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.

Aristotle, Politics

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 149

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place, Apartment Lounge Blend

When I was a kid, it was hard to imagine violence happening overseas. There were buzzwords like ‘Nepal’ and ‘North Korea,’ but they didn’t mean anything. They were unseen threats. They were happening to someone else. The worst vipers in the deepest sea.

Then, after Iraq, it got a little easier. I didn’t know anyone who was a soldier but I knew people who knew them. American men and women were cutting up other people with automatic guns (and getting cut up themselves). It was closer to home, and the news even showed you pictures: that GI standing on the naked Iraqi men they’d taken prisoner. Horror knew my name now, and was occasionally sending postcards.

I read a piece about the Nazi’s. It was a series of photos of Auschwitz workers on their off days. Men and women eating ice-cream, posing for pictures. All smiles. It said: “These people don’t think they’re evil.” And it went on to catalogue the many years it took them to get there, to where you could be smiling after a day working gas chambers.

These days, the horror’s my closest neighbor. It lives beside me, two floors down. We walk across the lawn and wave at each other most mornings. Sometimes, we run into each other at the pool.

I don’t know how long it takes to go from taking children from their families or forcing men to share such crowded spaces they have to stand on toilets, to removing their humanity with a more literal force. On our Southern border, all of us condone an organized violence on migrants trying hard to be free. We tell ourselves we don’t like it. We still cringe when we look at the pictures. But how long does that last? How long before the horror moves in?

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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We must be listened to: above and beyond our personal experience, we have collectively witnessed a fundamental unexpected event, fundamental precisely because unexpected, not foreseen by anyone. It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere.

Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 147

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place, Apartment Lounge Blend

I went to the shore to abandon myself. The water was the color of 2% milk. There were long lines. A woman in an airliner’s outfit was trying to guide them but everyone was pushing. Further up, kids without parents were left playing in the dunes.

I took my shoes off. My feet were calloused from all the walking, the sand was hot, so they hurt. Eventually it would be high tide and none of this would matter. ‘Eventually’ can take a long time.

At sea there was a fisher’s boat. It was painted blue. The crew had a heavy old net with weights woven in it that they were sinking to the bottom. Every hour, they’d haul the net and let it hang to let out the milky water. What was left were the effects – shoes, shirts, hair-weaves, and sometimes, if the crew was lucky, a rolex. It was all escheated – that’s what you signed up for – but before shipping it off to the State, the fishers took their cut.

No-one ever asked what happens to the bodies.

When it was my turn, the woman in the airliner’s outfit had me stamp my thumbprint. She took out a roll of string and a ruler, got my measurements. Before she was even done with me, she was looking at the next person in line.

But it didn’t matter. I had gone to the shore to abandon myself. Now, I was ankle-deep in the water. It’s milk licked my slacks until they were a darker color. It was colder than I expected, and I felt like a tree, like all the heat of the day was getting drawn through my toes, deeply buried roots. It scared me. But it wasn’t an awful feeling.

Finally, sunk to my chin, I couldn’t think about anything. All I felt was joy. I couldn’t hear the children with no parents playing on the dunes. I couldn’t see the fisher’s boats doing their drudgery a couple miles off-shore. I’d forgotten how to spell, and when I looked at the clouds the only word that came to me was ‘candy.’ Every bit of horror was gone. And with that, I let the waves crash over me, sniffing out the space I’d made for myself, comfortably disconnected, at the bottom of the sea.

(some Saturdays, it’s hard to turn on the news)

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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So long as the child was fed on its mother’s milk, everything seemed to it smooth and easy. But when it had to give up milk and take to vodka, – and this is the inevitable law of human development – the childish suckling dreams receded into the realm of the irretrievable past.

Lev Shestov, All Things Are Possible

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 87

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I read part of an article about Camille Billops, an artist. I only read part because it’s been that kind of day – partial. I’m don’t know if I’ll ever finish it, but what I read left an impression.

Camille Billops was a prominent artist who started her work in the 60’s. She created and advocated for black art through and beyond the civil rights movement. But the point of the article was: at the cusp of her career, she took her four-year-old daughter to a Children’s Home and left her there.

There’s no way to know what someone else is thinking, even if they tell you. We hardly understand ourselves and rarely vocalize the parts we do. But at least publicly, Billops’s choice to give up her daughter was a drive for independence, a rejection of the mandate for motherhood that trapped and continues to trap women, and a choice to give up family in order to freely pursue her art.

It’s the last one that gets me.

I think a lot about balance – work-life, freedom-responsibility, healthy eating-loving chocolate – and in particular about the balance between everything else and art. Because the split really is that big, isn’t it? When you’re in the act of creating something, that’s all you’re doing. It’s all of you – all your life, love, blood and energy. You take people and places that are vividly real and send them through the woodchipper. If your art is going to have power, you have to feed it everything precious in your life for fuel. Billops fed it her daughter. Jury’s out what sorts of things I’m burning for fuel.

I was at the Nasher a few years ago seeing an exhibit on Southern artists. There was a piece, a vivid portrait, abstracted. My friend and guide told me the artist had a sad story. He’d gotten so caught up in his art that he’d withdrawn from his family, gotten depressive, and driven his loved ones away. My friend thought that was awful. I did too, but it made a lot of sense to me.

But maybe it’s all a trick. Maybe that reclusive tendency to sacrifice your friends and family to some myth of ‘genius’ has darker motives. You’ve got to have something in the first place in order to give it up. And if you can give up damn near everything and still survive, that implies you’re living with a modicum of success or comfort backing you. The artistic rejection of the world is always an act of privilege. It’s something that says: “I don’t need you.” You might climb the mountain, but you do so without making room at the summit for anyone else, and with some sense of security that you’ll make it there. The ‘starving artist’ is a myth. No-one has time to both starve and make art.

Anyway, that was all a long and rambling way to say that art and ethics sometimes collide and that’s not easy. Today was also a rambling day.

Currently Reading: NOTHING! Couldn’t get back into Bourdain, no matter how much I tried; will pick a new book soon

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In the nearly 60 years since Camille Billops made the decision to give up her daughter, she has become an internationally recognized artist and filmmaker.

Sasha Bonet, The Artist Who Gave Up Her Daughter, published in Topic Magazine

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 83

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

A kid at the Chinese take-out squirmed around in his mother’s arms enough to look at me and said: “What did you order?”

I told him what I got – two spring rolls and tofu. He was puzzled, then I asked him about his order and he lit up: “Shrimp fried rice!” All the while, his mom’s got that look that says ‘isn’t my kid everything?’ but ‘I’m watching your every move’ at the same time.

While they were leaving, she says: ‘Say goodbye.’

And he says: ‘Goodbye!’

And I say: ‘Fried rice is classic.’

That was the most interesting thing that happened at the Chinese take-out.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, it’s effectively illegal to get an abortion. The only cases where the doctor’s not liable for a life sentence are where the mother’s immediate health would be compromised. I say immediate, because there’s many physical and emotional impacts of birth and pregnancy that don’t quite tally to death but are still significant and severe. Anyway…

There’s lots of good arguments going around for why this new anti-abortion law is bullshit. A lot better than anything I can say, I’m not a woman and no-one’s got a gun to my bodily sanctity. But here’s a thing I thought about that I think gets brushed over: what does it say to parents to tell them having a child is not really their choice? Accidents happen. People get tossed up in each other and then there’s this new bit of DNA. Maybe you want what it’ll turn into. Maybe you don’t. But Alabama says you’re not allowed to make that choice. Even if you want to be a parent, the kid’s not there because of your intention. She/he’s there because some privileged men knew how to slap a legislative stamp. She/he’s born independent of want or love.

I don’t know about you, but that sickens me.

While he was still on her lap, the mom was rocking the kid with her knee and nonchalantly running one hand’s worth of fingers through his hair. She was checking Twitter with the other. Normal, calm, simple, but wrapped up in her was someone that wanted to be a part of this vibrant, questioning person bouncing on her knee. If I had to guess – accident or otherwise – when push came to shove, she made the choice to offer up nine months of blood and eighteen or more years to give life to her son. Can you feel the weight of that?

But no, Alabama says to hell with that kind of love. You might be screaming ‘state’s rights’ and ‘small government,’ but you’re eager to slip the government’s fingers into other peoples’ pants, or put your long, bureaucratic proboscis into their hearts. You rob them of both their bodily autonomy and the freedom to love. You spoil not only a woman that says ‘no’ but the one that says ‘yes.’ In a grand act of irony, you have devalued both the individual woman and the concept of a family. In fact, the only thing you haven’t touched are greedy, self-obsessed men.

Oh, I get it now.

You are the closest I will ever come to magic.

Suzanne Finnamore, The Zygote Chronicles

Coffee Log, Day 330

Hi.

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

The guy to the right of me had a pepperoni pizza. The lady to the left was eating a grilled turkey salad. And across was a woman who had a hamburger, she was apologizing about the onions. When I opened my order to eat, it was a simple green salad.

There aren’t many vegetarian options at my work’s corporate office.

Later in the day, I got to go home a couple hours early. I stopped at the grocery store for more deodorant and then at my favorite chinese joint on the way home. The woman knew my order: “Tofu garlic sauce!” so I tipped an extra dollar. I sat in the lobby smelling hot oil cook a young latina’s chicken wings.

On the drive home, I thought about Greece – about Mousakka in particular, and that one time I offended a fancy restaurateur for not eating theirs. It was made with veal. I was still a carnivore, but couldn’t bring myself to eat calf meat. I had two servings of strawberry icecream instead.

A personal ethic involves excluding yourself from culture. Sometimes even cultures you would very much like to be a part of. It points you out as someone with a ‘choice,’ and not everyone has a choice, and that’s a fair critique. And it points you out as a spoil sport, a sore thumb, both of which are a little less fair.

I remember having turkey sandwiches a long time ago and loving them, and then a little later thinking turkey was a bland meat. And at some other times, I’ve seen wild turkeys on the roadside looking punch-drunk or confused. Bland animals, too.

Sometimes, I only know how to love myself in opposition to my nature, and in opposition to my culture, and I think that’s equally beautiful and bothersome.

Novel Count: 15,761

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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“I went to the kitchen and felt-up the turkey.”

Charles Bukowski, Women


Coffee Log, Day 256

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

A real looker: thick lips, cute smile, curves in all the right places. Careless to the mud, down to earth, but pride in the eyes from knowing you’ve got something special.

I’m talking, of course, about a mulefoot pig.

I read this article about the mulefoots, how they’re drawing toward extinction. There are 200 or so of them left. Used to be a feed pig, popular in America, but they’re big, wild suckers who won’t let you keep them in little cages, and so with the advent of industrial farming nobody raises them anymore.

The article went on to talk about how there’s this midwestern movement to bring the pigs back. Like everything in the world, they need money to do it, and they get the money by selling mulefoot meat at a premium. So far, the initiative’s working and the population’s growing.

This gave me a headache. Not for the news itself, but for the ethical dilemma. I went vegetarian at the beginning of this year. I feel good, I feel healthy, and most of all I feel honest not eating animals I know I’d struggle to kill. I’m not one to speak my opinions too far onto others, but of course I think what I’m doing is generally right.

But then you have the mulefoots. Or whatever other livestock animal you’d like to insert. It’s a hard world for non-human life. Our efforts to thrive have cut the line on many species. There’s surely no way to save everything while still looking out for the interests of people. That said, when there’s this easy opportunity to save a few hundred pigs – a route to mutual benefit – only the catch is you take a knife to the hog’s throat and cut it into bacon, what’s the ethical move?

I honestly don’t know.

Novel Count: 5,177 words

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

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“I am fond of pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.” – Winston S. Churchill

Mulefoot Pig article linked HERE

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