Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 79

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee; that early morning smell – woodchips going down a blender; guinea pig bedding; cheap office coffee brewing in the back; I blew on the cup to cool it down, but wish I hadn’t; when the coffee got cool enough to drink, it was also cool enough to taste.

A writer was taking the DC metro when she saw one of the workers eating in the corner of the train. So she tweets: “When you’re on your morning commute & see @wmata employee in UNIFORM eating on the train. I thought we were not allowed to eat on the train. This is unacceptable. Hope @wmata responds.” And she takes a photo of the woman to tag with it. That tweet gets scene by a bunch of people, including Jezebel, who wrote the article I read about this in. The author’s name is Natasha Tynes. Her publisher is considering pulling her book deal.

Good riddance.

Like all stories, there’s always a few sides, and to give Natasha the benefit of the doubt, maybe she was having a bad day when she publicly shamed this metro worker for her basic bodily functions. If I’m being less generous, though, the story didn’t surprise me from the moment I read that Natasha is a writer. There’s a slippery undercurrent to writing books. A two-headed thing, a salamander, something old, that idolizes the times when ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ were divine acts given only to the most noble or holy castes of society. It peeks beneath casual comments about grammar or over the thick-rimmed glasses of your freshman writing prof when he says ‘we only study literary fiction here.’ Writing has a rich history of being exclusionary. And writers have a way of eating that exclusivity up.

Which is particularly ridiculous given what the value of writing fiction is: a sieve. Good books drop the world in one end and pass it back out the other, only the pieces are rearranged to something more sensible than the onslaught of daily chaos we all experience in our lives. It picks out the faults, the fears, the idiosyncrasies of being human. Those chipped edges are the bread and butter of good writing. How much passion or woe must have been in every bite the metro worker took of her sandwich, and instead of words to work this image big, bold and beautiful as it deserves to be, Natasha cuts her down. Self-defeating elitism. The snake nips its tail.

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

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Tynes says she confronted the employee, who told her to “worry about yourself.”

Emily Alford, writing for Jezebel; A Writer Who Shamed a D.C. Metro Worker for Eating on a Train Could Lose Publishing Deal

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 41

Hi.

Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

It’s been an exhausting day. I was sick last night with a stomach virus. Couldn’t sleep, couldn’t make it to work. I spent the morning in and out of day dreams, the afternoon in a deep orange haze. I can’t remember most of the pieces of the day. I know I read a lot of The Sense of an Ending, so I guess I’ll talk about that.

The book’s grown on me. I feel like I say that with every book I read. Maybe it just takes me some time to acclimate to an author. Maybe it’s a confirmation bias – this far in, I don’t want to feel like I’ve wasted my time.

The narrator is still a pretentious prick, but I think he’s supposed to be. The book is about looking back on your life and realizing your memory of events gets it wrong. You weren’t as good a person as you thought you had been. Your worst enemies were more complicated than you gave them credit for.

One thing that bugs me is it ends up being about a woman. Not in the ‘this is an examination of this woman, or womanhood, etc,’ but in the manic, hungry way every book written by a man ends up being about a woman. Even in Crime and Punishment, salvation is found in a separate female body.

I’m guilty of this, too. Pop over to the Writing Samples section of this website and you’ll find my most recent published work – Chessboard and Tequila – full of all kinds of wining about ‘losing the girl.’ It’s complicated. A lot of life is driven by love. But is this really love? Is this fictional mad-dash to absolve something wrong in your maleness by attaching it to a woman anything like real love?

So where does this trend come from? Male writers have been writing these same stories for centuries. Is it genetic? Is it something in our cultures?

Even now, my novel involves a bit of chasing girls. The idea comes out of my fingers like summer crickets on the keyboard, bouncing all around, making a racket. I try to catch them but a few get through. These days, I figure the best I can do is draw attention to this oddity – this obsessive problem in male art, including my own. The best I can do is pick and prod it until it shows me something new.

I’m tired of stories about men chasing women.

Novel Count: 36,338

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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Man grows used to everything, the scoundrel!


Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 25

Hi.

Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

All of a sudden, I started calling this thing a ‘memoir’ instead of a ‘blog.’ Honestly, it’s probably both. I guess I felt like getting it dressed up. It’s the Coffee Log’s first prom. It’s pinned and tuxed. It’s wearing one of those white flowers people pin to themselves. It splurged and got a real one, a real dead flower. Boy, what an event!

But anyway, I wrote a memoir once. It was under great duress, let me tell you. Freshman year writing class, we had assignments to write a little bit of everything. And when it was time for the memoir, the only think I could think of was ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ I don’t much like ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ I tried reading it once on recommendation. It read like the kind of coworker who’s always trying to talk to you about her kid’s soccer games.

The memoir I ended up writing was a bit about cooking for Thanksgiving. I was seeing this girl at the time and we’d made green bean casserole for her family. It was a total mess. I described it like that. When I first wrote the memoir, it was supposed to be funny. Charming. I was giddy. In puppy-love. Well, after Thanksgiving, that girl up and vanished from my life – no word, no letters, stopped returning my calls. Needless to say, my mood had changed. I re-wrote the memoir halfway between ‘The Stranger’ and ‘Edgar Allan Poe.’ But I kept the comedy. Can’t amount to much of anything if you can’t laugh at yourself.

Looking back, I think that green bean casserole was the start of everything: years and years of writing, a few publications, this endless damn blog. (oops, I meant memoir). Life’s a strange dish. Messy. To be honest, I’ve always hated green beans.

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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I think I deserve something beautiful.

Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat Pray Love


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 23

Hi.

Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand; I think these beans have it in for me. On the second cup, I got the jitters. On the third, I was queasy. I spent the whole day not wanting to eat anything. My gut evacuated – bad news, best to get out of dodge. That said, the taste was fine.

I’m sitting ankle-deep in writer’s block. Or – I know what to write next, I just don’t feel like writing it. Instead, I’ll talk about something that bothers me:

Every other book I read feels artificial.

I won a copy of “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes at an open mic. This was months ago, I just got around to reading it. Before I get any further, I should say I’m only a quarter in. But that quarter left a sour taste in my mouth.

For those that don’t know, “The Sense of an Ending” won the Man Booker. Etc, etc. The story so far follows a group of friends through a private high school. They’re all eclectic, aggressively so. The writing takes simple scenes and puts a lot of wax on them. Barnes is always going on about something. It’s meticulous, literary, sort of impressive.

To me, it stinks. What truth is there in a bunch of prep kids talking philosophy and sneering at their teachers? Why are so many writers obsessed with asserting some kind of carefully constructed world-view?

Today, I did nothing. I sat and moped. I wanted to write but couldn’t. No-one was around. I played video games. I got groceries. When it was time to exercise, I drank two beers instead. There’s no greater meaning in any of that – just a drudgery. But damn if it didn’t feel inescapably real.

My favorite passage of one of my favorite books spends a long describing the inside of a Denny’s. It’s an ordinary Denny’s. It’s an ordinary night. The protagonist sits inside that ordinariness. And that’s it – no big revelations. What more do you need? The truth is this: ordinary life is the most strange, beautiful, sad, gripping, dangerous thing of all.

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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The music playing at low volume is “Go Away Little Girl” by Percy Faith and His Orchestra. No one is listening, of course. Many different kinds of people are taking meals and drinking coffee in this late-night Denny’s, but she is the only female there alone. She raises her face from her book now and then to glance at her watch, but she seems dissatisfied with the slow passage of time. Not that she appears to be waiting for anyone: she doesn’t look around the restaurant or train her eyes on the front door. She just keeps reading her book, lighting an occasional cigarette, mechanically tipping back her coffee cup, and hoping for the time to pass a little faster. Needless to say, dawn will not be here for hours.

After Dark, Haruki Murakami


Coffee Log, Day 309

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; I’ve said this before, but this roast is like coming home: rich, complicated, delicious with nostalgia, but by the third cup you’ve forgotten how to drink it; the sour comes out.

I’ll let you in on a secret: there were two prior iterations of this website. The first was a brief blog on tumblr. It had some flash fiction and a travel blog. It started at an open mic in Hillsborough, at a cafe/bar that doesn’t exist anymore. I’d been invited by a friend I was kind of in love with. Before the show, we walked around a dilapidated lot next door. There was a toilet in tall weeds, broken in a hundred pieces. We looked at that toilet for a long time. I told some stories about it, its owners. So did she. L was creative like that. Later, the concert seemed like chicory in coffee, completely alert, and I knew I had something to write about. Six months go by and life takes over; I forgot that ceramic magic.

Then there was website #2: a real winner, mostly stories (that are too old and unpolished to post here), designed immaculately by a friend who’s an artist, a musician, a bit of a wanderer, and a web designer. We worked together on it for a few months and when it was up it sort of saved me. Except I didn’t know what to do with the site. I hadn’t found the right voice for my stories, and since the site was hand-crafted, I couldn’t ever figure how to manage the content. So that’s gone too.

I’m coming up on a year of keeping my Coffee Log. I haven’t added much fiction to the site, but that’s only because I’m still trying to publish what I’ve written. It’s been a busy year. And it feels a little different this time, like even if I don’t know where it’s all going, I’ve given enough gas to the tank and oil to the gears that it’s bound to end up somewhere.

Third time’s the charm. Thanks for hopping on the ride.

Novel Count: 6,712

Currently Reading: Nothing! Will pick a new book after the holidays.

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The windows of my Corolla are all rolled up and the radio is off.  Earlier in the week, or maybe the week before, I spent a while moving fast food cups and odds and ends off the seats and out of the car so now it’s mostly empty.  I think about this for a second while L stretches her legs in the passenger seat.

Gareth Livesay, The Depot, Hillsborough NC Sometime in June 2013

Coffee Log, Day 251 (Halloween Special)

Hi.

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

You wake up in the backseat of someone else’s car. The wind’s beating trees. You can hear it, one of the windows is cracked. It’s pitch, it’s night, there’s a thick orange cloudcover so you must be close to the city. You open the door. The ground’s gravel. You’re in a forest. You don’t know where you are.

It was warm this morning so you’re in shirtsleeves. You wish you’d thought ahead. That same wind brings all the hairs on your arms to attention. You pace a few times around that car.

Are they coming back? Who brought you here?

It’s an old Camry, ’91 or ’92, blue paint faded, a busted front headlight. The only clues  don’t mean anything to you. You peak into the seats to look for keys but there’s an empty ignition. The road curves left up ahead and right behind you. A leaf falls. Your heart shakes. You think about spending the night in the car, but then you consider who might be coming. You start walking down the road.

It’s a slow walk. The path is getting steeper. You trip and when you get back up there’s blood coming from you. For some reason you can’t explain, you lick it. Every dead sow you’ve put inside you; the red ink of our mother.

Scatter – a flock of birds. It was deeper in the forest and something shook them. Ten slick bodies spiral through the leaves. You wait and try to listen, a bit of the blood still on your lips. There’s only the wind at first and then you hear it: “Pad, pad, pad” – little muffled footsteps; a park stroll; only it’s dead night and you woke up in the backseat of a foreign car.

Now you’re pounding. You walk. You stumble. You run. You stumble more. The footsteps are getting louder and louder. It’s all you can do in the dim night to keep to the path, keep your bearings, have a sense that you’re still a part of the world. The road is all uphill. It twists and snakes. You push past a point of exhaustion and think there’s no way for you to go any further. You remember the blood and you push further.

Then there’s a light. It’s through the trees and you only catch parts of it. It’s yellow, orange, a candy corn, somewhat repulsive but still inviting. You quickly realize that if you follow the path you won’t find it. It’s Eastward, and you’re going nowhere close. You pause a second and look behind you. Little specked things are in the trees. They twist and rattle. Beneath the commotion, the footsteps keep coming. With all you have, you step into a mess of bramble off the road. It cuts. It stabs. It’s better than whoever wants to find you.

A half hour passes following that pumpkin light. You can’t tell if you’re getting any closer. Then, all of a sudden, the trees slip back and you’re in a pasture. There’s a wide, mowed field with a house in the middle. It’s a wood house, one-story, a porch with pole-columns and rocking chairs. There’s an old dead tractor rusting on the lawn.

For a second you’re frozen. An unknown home – could be the man or woman who got you, stranded you here. Could be it belongs to the pair of too-light feet that have you in twenty yards. But there’s no time to think. You walk. You run. You’re running. Fireflies escape the blades of grass. A personal sea of stars. The house is forever across the field and then you hear the ‘slap-slap‘ of something running. It’s behind you. You turn around and only see the fireflies.

Time stretches as much as your tired muscles. It’s forever to reach the porch. Finally, though, as inevitable as Spring, you’re there. There’s an old rusty doorbell and light coming through the thick curtains. You try to spy inside but there’s no gaps. The thing behind you is still coming. You don’t know who or what lives here. You press the button. There’s a ringing behind the door.

Bzzt.

Bzzt.

Bzzt…..

“Trick or treat!!” Old Lady Johnson has the biggest smile and pumpkin earrings. She sees your costume – all dolled up as the dark things in the night – and pats your head and hands you two Snickers. On the way down the porch, you see your mother. She’s talking to some other parents, some other families. You open one of the candies and eat it before she sees you. It tastes red and perfect and you’re proud you’ve kept the secret. A million kids are out here tonight but not a one knows your secret: that for a brief time you were somewhere else, lost in a dark forest, haunted, and that you made it home.

Happy Halloween

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

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Led through the mist,
By the milk-light of moon,
All that was lost, is revealed.
Our long bygone burdens, mere echoes of the spring,
But where have we come, and where shall we end?
If dreams can’t come true, then why not pretend?” – Patrick McHale, Into the Unknown, a song from Over the Garden Wall

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Coffee Log, Day 157

Hi.

Coffee: India Extra Bold Roast, Cafe Crema

We were promised thunderstorms. I checked the weather all week. At work, I heard from customers about their houses getting water-logged. I was excited, but I never saw a drop.

In my novel, I write about the Anpanman museum in Fukuoka. I hadn’t been there so I looked up lots of pictures. There’s a big glass ceiling over the stage where they do costume shows. I thought: I wish I had seen it rain from below the glass. There were lots of storms in Japan but never one while I was in Fukuoka. Now, since the novel, my memory of that city is changed: raining, static, wet and overwhelming.

It’s made me doubt myself more broadly. If I can rewrite a place for a novel, couldn’t I be doing that with the rest of my life? My four years of philosophy come out like spring spiders and start eating this and that certainty; I sit with Descartes at a candlelit desk and contemplate. I’ve known for a while that I don’t know much of anything, but to think that maybe I’m less in touch with things I thought I did? Spooky – where’s the Halloween candy?

But when the doubt fades I sort of love it. My life, your life, we’re narratives. That’s romantic. Telling you my story until it changes, until the me between your two ears is one that I don’t even know.

Outside, clouds are coming. We were promised thunderstorms. A little out of sight, the sky bled like a new mother, birth-marking peat and loam.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“I act with complete certainty. But this certainty is my own.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty

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