Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 84

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; I thought about going inside the shop but when I drove by the parking lot was filled; so I got my coffee from the drive-through; even treated myself to a slice of lemon cake; the woman at the window had deep green lacquer on her fingernails; it reminded me of mountainsides in the early morning; I told her I liked the color, she said ‘thanks’; later, drinking the coffee, I thought I could taste a bit of wood-bark, pine-sap, morning dew

A hot day. Now that we’ve passed mid-may, summer’s taken it’s gloves off, spit out the tobacco, and is squatting wide-legged in the fields ready to take on all comers. I went out around five to pick up a few things from the pharmacy and got socked in the face. One hit of that humidity and I was walking like I had the weight of the world on me. All the thermostats were reading 90. Like I said, a hot day.

Nevertheless, I spent a lot of the day outside.

I’ve been re-reading After Dark by Murakami. I finished my re-read today. The last time I let my eyes on the book, I was 17 and wading through another hot summer. I was away at an academic camp and within the first week had torn my ACL (a particularly vigorous game of ping-pong was what did me in). So there I was, young and dumb and largely alone, limping around a college campus on crutches, trying to keep up with the world as it whipped by. Because of that, coming back to After Dark has been like finding all those boxes in your parents’ basement full of family photos – you squint at the pictures and try to make them look familiar without getting too embarrassed. Then, in the end, you stare so long so you forget they’re even photos of you.

I was reading on the porch with a cup of peppermint tea beside me. The hot day matched the tea so that you couldn’t tell which was making all that steam. I sweated out my journey into old, semi-blank memory albums, and when the tea was gone and the book was almost over, I had a beer. Finally, soaked to the bone, I finished what I’d come there to do. I closed the book. I put down the bottle. About to go inside, I heard a clapping sound off the balcony. I looked over and saw a family of geese. They were huddled together, pecking through the clover, hunting for bugs. Some of them were so young their adult feathers hadn’t come in. I didn’t know what to make of them – these beautiful, surprising, cuddly creatures walking by – and I still don’t. But I think they’ll be one of those memories I’ll open up fifteen years from now and hardly recognize, no matter how much I might want to.

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

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

A giant motherboard of geese,
unruffled by the state
police, swarmed in unison

Kristen Henderson, Of My Maiden Smoking

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 78

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro, Trader Joe’s Brand

All day, the house has smelled like chicken. There’s a pot of skin and bones bubbling on the stove. My roommate put it on late last night and has been tending it since then. The water’s yellow. The bones have gone from gray to deep brown. Heat sucked out the marrow. At 2pm, I poured a glass of fizzy water and even that tasted like chicken. Potent, ‘fowl’ stuff.

I was re-reading a Murakami novel – ‘After Dark.’ It takes place between midnight and 6am in Tokyo. I took the book to the porch where the sky had gone gray but couldn’t find it’s tear ducts to rain. I sipped my chicken-flavored seltzer and read for three hours. The wind came and went. Some birds made a nest above me, in that spot where the third floor lips over ours. Kids were running around but I didn’t look for them. Four white guys played basketball across the creek and had a portable speaker blasting Drake.

Now it’s dinnertime and I’m finding it hard to have an appetite. It feels like I’ve been licking chicken skin since morning. I remember what it was like to eat meat. Bone-in, such a puzzle: you study a dead animal’s geography, engineer it to simpler shapes with your fingers and teeth. Just bones, you toss them, or at least I would, but sometimes we’re not satisfied. Sometimes you have to squeeze the bird of it’s blood and juices, milk it like a California almond, and drink that too. Is that better? Less wasteful? Absolutely. Snip the chicken like a magazine clipping, removing it completely from the green earth.

At 7pm, it still hasn’t rained. No use waiting, so I guess I’ll get on with my day.

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

I did not become a vegetarian for my health, I did it for the health of the chickens.


Isaac Bashevis Singer

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 39

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee; my coworker told me today that the coffee smelled better than it usually does. I told her I didn’t do anything different with the brew. When I tasted it, though, it tasted a little better also. Maybe it’s the water. Maybe it’s the unseasonable cold that brings something to a hot drink. Maybe we’re all going crazy together. All in all, though, this office blend still tastes like an end-of-quarter spreadsheet.

I watched a show start-to-finish in two days called ‘Run with the Wind.’ It’s an animated show from Japan (anime for you otaku out there) about a college track team. About once a year, I feel driven to watch a drama about athletes. I’ve been doing this off and on since college. I don’t know what draws me in. I’ve never been much of a runner, sports hasn’t played a big roll in my life. Once a year, though, a sports drama is what I need.

The first twenty-two years of my life were defined by competition. Academic competition, that is. I did well in school. I’d like to say I was only competing with myself, but that wasn’t true. I wanted to win. I wanted to be the best in whatever I did. By rigid school standards, I often was.

In stark contrast, next to none of my life upon graduating university in 2012 has been competitive. Sure, there’s a rat race to getting a good job, but those competitions are blind – I’ll never know the names of other applicants for my position. The only person left to compete with is myself.

Why is it so intoxicating to measure yourself against something?

Recently, I’ve stopped playing competitive games. Scratch that – I play games competitively, but only against internet strangers, never friends. I don’t want to feel the heat of competition with people I love. Or maybe I don’t want to know how I measure up to them.

It all kind of frightens me. Back in those first 22 years, I was who I was because of the victories I could name. You could talk to me for hours, but you’d know me better by looking at the trophies on my shelf. It was an exaggerated sort of competitiveness. I’ve still got that urge. I weigh myself – if not against other people specifically, then against the world. You only know what you look like when you’re looking at a reflection.

I don’t think any of this is unnatural. I may be a bit more competitive than others, but everyone needs an anchor. I think it’s beautiful and frightening at the same time. Beautiful because it tethers you to something. Frightening because you only know the weight of the anchor as it’s measured up to you – that is, there’s no true fixed point by which to define yourself (or anything else for that matter).

Anyway, sometimes I need to get into a sports drama. I like the competition. I like the sweat. I like the work. It makes sense to me – putting yourself on a scale against someone else, sharing that intimate moment, learning what you’re capable of.

Novel Count: 36,238

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

I look up at the sky, wondering if I’ll catch a glimpse of kindness there, but I don’t. All I see are indifferent summer clouds drifting over the Pacific. And they have nothing to say to me. Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn’t be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. Like staring down into a deep well.

Haruki Murakami, What I Talk About when I Talk About Running


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

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

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, Year 2, Day 10

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I finally finished reading ‘Killing Commendatore.’ I read the last chapter while rain came down outside. The book rushes to a climax then wraps things up with an extended epilogue. It feels unfinished, but I think it’s supposed to feel that way. The book was about art – why you love it, why you make it, what it does to you.

For a couple months, I was convinced I’d eventually cut the Coffee Log down to a weekly blog. This was last year, September and October. Life was hectic at the time. I was applying for a new job. I was sitting on a stack of lit journal rejections. I was trying to work things out with an old lover so we could still be friends. I was drinking tall drinks in the aftermath of learning that – at least for a while – we couldn’t. And there I was writing one of these every day.

It was exhausting.

It still is.

My big fear was that I wouldn’t ever write anything else. Sometimes I’ll sit down and spit one of these logs out in the time it takes to blow out a nose full of pollen. Other times, they take over an hour. That’s a lot of life on the weekdays, and a lot of mental energy besides. I’ve learned to scrutinize my day-to-day for things to say in a way I never had before. It’s an invaluable skill, but draining.

So what room’s left for a novel in all of that?

It was Halloween that did it for me. Some friends were over. We were watching Over the Garden Wall. The night was dark and spooky and magic despite having to work the next morning. Halfway through the show, I stole off to my computer to write the daily Coffee Log. If you remember, that was a long one. It was a narrative. It was fiction. It was creepy. I wrote it on the spot and when it was done I felt full. I was a bunch of warm tossed towels spinning in a drier. The next day, I started working on my second book.

This has all been a long-winded way of saying that effort has consequences: good and bad. I feel drained. Sharing these stories daily has changed the way I live life. But at the same time, there’s a new effortlessness in sitting down to write.

‘Killing Commendatore’ is also Murakami finding a sort of religion. Nothing specific or labeled, but rather just belief. Learning to live life believing in something without any evidence for or against it. A kind of faith. I think you have to have that to be an artist. I think you have to have that to be much of anything. It’s scary walking a bridge alone. Sometimes you need someone to walk with you – whether that’s God, Science, or a simple Idea.

Novel Count: 29,417

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; FINISHED!

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGNFrom the land of red clay, and lottery worship

You can have all the desire and ache inside you want, but what you really need is a concrete starting point.

Haruki Murakami, Killing Commendatore


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 3

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand

I’ve been writing these logs late in the day recently. Nine or ten, just before I go to bed. It’s like I’m trying to wait for something to hit me – some big thing. Of course there’s never that big thing. Only a marble-bag of small ones.

The rain broke today. All of a sudden everything was gunked up in sun. Blue-white skies and warm skin. People came out of the woodworks to check their mail, walk their dogs, talk to their neighbors – any excuse to be outside. I’m usually more a fan of cloudy days, but even I had to admit it was magic to see the sun again.

I remember when I first moved to this apartment. I had two weeks before I started a new job. I spent most days sitting outside under the gazebo. It was an old gazebo, full of wasps, it isn’t there anymore. Back then I was taking notes for a different novel. And I was keeping a journal, something of a predecessor to this blog. I wanted to make sense of that anxious feeling you get when you’ve moved somewhere new. I don’t know that I ever got my hands all the way around it, but the writing helped.

Night now. I should get to bed. I still feel like I’m waiting. It’ll follow me to sleep. Maybe we’re all always waiting for something. And it might be too boring to find it.

Novel Count: 26,571

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured.At least by the person who’s waiting.

Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun


Coffee Log, Day 341

Hi.

Coffee: Locomotive Blend, PennyCup Coffee

I’m thinking about getting another lamp. One for the kitchen, so that when I take my coffee in the mornings I can be lit up by something other than the bright-as-venus florescent.

The older I get, the more I come to appreciate a certain kind of atmosphere. I want space and windows and the right sort of light to let my mind relax. When I was younger, I cared about those same things, but I was content to let them come to me. Now there’s a desperation. A need for control. You’ve only got so much time so you want to fill it with the right things.

About half of Killing Commendatore is dreamy descriptions of fancy houses in a Japanese mountain range. Murakami spends whole chapters talking about the couches. It’s a little boring but it’s supposed to be. It’s an old man’s book. It’s written for people that understand how important it is to look at a piece of furniture and know it’s not going anywhere; to be in a place that won’t slip out from under you.

I’ve lived in relatively few places, but I’ve lived in each of them furiously. I’ve never hung a picture. If the walls weren’t the right color, I wouldn’t paint them. Always in the act of leaving. But eventually you realize that there’s never going to be a destination. You’ll never get off the train. All you can do is tinker with your cabin so that it suits you – if not perfectly, then a little better than it did before.

Novel Count: 19,974

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

When people photograph an object, they often put a pack of cigarettes next to it to give the viewer a sense of the object’s actual size, but the pack of cigarettes next to the images in my memory expanded and contracted, depending on my mood at the time. Like the objects and events in constant flux, or perhaps in opposition to them, what should have been a fixed yardstick inside the framework of my memory seemed instead to be in perpetual motion.

Haruki Murakami, Killing Commendatore