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 211

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee

6:13 am: I watched a man walk his two dogs in the almost-morning. He went around the gazebo, stopped to let the dog sniff the bridge. I’d just gotten up. I was still in my boxers. I watched from the kitchen window. It occurred to me later that he might have been watching me, too.

12:35 pm: In the bank’s parking lot, on my lunch break, I watched a tiny silver spider attempt a web from the closest tree to my driver’s side mirror. She had six long legs with two smaller. She kept falling off the mirror then twisting back up. Vexed, I guess, she’d turn circles on my pearl-white car.  I’d try to laugh but my mouth got stuck on peanut butter. Ms. Spider was good company.

3:49 pm: All the news blows up about Kavanaugh’s accuser. She never wanted the spotlight so I won’t name her. There’s different theories as to why she must be mis-remembering: the long time it took her to come forward; the possibility that she was almost-raped by a different man; Kavanaugh’s perfect pearly-white smile. I heard an interview with a good friend of hers who said the woman was choked by the first news of Kavanaugh’s nomination. I couldn’t help but think that Kavanaugh has a great grip, those same ten fingers having strangled a woman for 36 years.

5:57 pm: I bought dinner from a Chinese diner. I tipped a dollar. I ordered to go. The restaurant was smoky and busy, a non-stop phone. The two chefs were men but a woman and her 13-yr-old son staffed the counter. In between orders, she helped him with his homework. In between assignments, he filled a couple notebook pages with his own art. I got thinking: what will this kid’s hands hold? A dog leash? A gavel? Some girl’s throat?

Before I left, his mom had a long conversation with another customer. Friends, laughing. The boy was back to art. Everyone in the building seemed stressed and honest and good and warm. I want to believe the diner-woman’s slowly managing to spin a perfect web.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“In joined hands there is still some token of hope, in the clinched fist none.” – Victor Hugo

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Coffee Log, Day 164

Hi.

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

America taught you I’m a threat. It taught me the same thing.

I was at the Japanese Festival at the NC State Fair grounds. L invited me. Go back a couple generations and his blood’s risen-sun red. We got there early, walked the stalls. There were many American faces, all cultures, all colors. I watched the snap-crack kendo demo. I watched a cadre of kids running with a tiny paper float on their backs, memories of Yamakasa.

On the way out, we wanted treats. I got some matcha mochi with red-bean paste, shared it with L. It was wrapped in bamboo leaves and AC cold. I liked it – earthy, like the year’s first mowed lawn. L wasn’t a fan so we had extra.

Anyway, standing with L and his wife, watching a Japanese woman pound piano on stage, a girl – maybe 17, 18 – walks by and asks “Where’d you get that?” I pointed her to the dessert stand. Then she tells me her grandmother used to make mochi. She was dressed western but had Japanese ravens in her eyes.

I said: “We’ve got extra if you want it.”

She stopped. Lips open; hands closed. Eyes went so wide all the ravens flew out; she shook her head, slightly. I could see the sweat.

“Ok, cool,” I said. She walked quick and the crowd swallowed her.

I was stunned. The bright warm Saturday had changed: eyes on me, a thousand; I hadn’t planned to wear my fangs to the festival, but here they were.

Girls grow up in America surrounded by long fingers, long stares, machinations to dislodge them from themselves. “Men are predators; men are a threat.” It’s too true not to learn the lesson. Her fear is far more suffering than I’ll know, but the bedtime story warps me too. If every girl is red riding hood, every man is the wolf. I feel you stitch the claws on me; that stiff ragged tail; I don’t want these teeth, but now I have them. A few thousand years of pack-hunting womanhood like African ivory and I’m born an animal. I’m a threat, however little I want to be.

I can’t change those stories, but I’ll keep trying to write new ones.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men’s eyes when deciding what provokes it.” – Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

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Coffee Log, Day 41

Hi.

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

I knew a girl in elementary who took her shirt off at an outdoor assembly. The fire department had brought a truck and the whole second grade was out there watching it. She took her shirt off on the way back and I remember her blond skin and bare chest and I remember thinking it was something I wasn’t supposed to see. A teacher took her from the line and yelled.

Years later, this same girl got pregnant in high school. We weren’t close, but people knew I knew her and talked to me in small voices that said “What the hell is her problem?” There was a pit in my gut like old dead snakes but sometimes I said “Yeah, crazy.” These days, I only know her through social media where she posts smiling pictures of herself with two kids and I think about the red fire truck and her pink-yellow skin and I wonder if the teacher would have yelled if she were a boy, if the jeers would have been closer to “What a stud,” in high school, and I don’t wonder long because it’s obvious.

Everyone alive has an intimate and evolving relationship with their bodies. The difference is that men get to have that relationship more privately. What’s wrong with wanting to let your shoulders feel the cold, Spring wind?

Currently Reading:
Tar Baby, Toni Morrison

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“As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.” – Virginia Woolf, Orlando

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