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

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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

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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, 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

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“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

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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


Coffee Log, Day 335

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; quicker to grind than the Locomotive Blend that A gifted me; I was running late this morning; I’d been caught in a looping dream about running errands for 2Chainz; I enjoyed the coffee, though it made me wistful for celebrity friendships that could have been.

The first day back to work is always an adjustment. Long weekend, short weekend, extended vacation, it doesn’t matter, that day back is like the bathroom lightswitch: the first bright thing you see in the morning, abrasively glamouring as you’re still trying to rub open your eyes.

I don’t have much else to talk about today, so I’ll talk about my progress into ‘Killing Commendatore.’ I’m about 200 pages in out of a 700 total. So far, I’d say it’s one of Murakami’s better later-day novels. You can tell it was written by an aging man. You can also tell it was written by a professional writer. It likes to luxuriate in long passages about putting on a certain opera record, or fixing a cup of coffee. That is, it sits you down in daily doldrums and tells you to like it. I do like it. But I have to say I miss the vitality of some of his earlier works. I wonder if any artist catches fire after his/her first or second time? If you’ve spent all your life waiting to produce something, how can anything beyond that first creation have the same drive behind it?

Who knows. Though I’ve written many short stories and one novel, I’ve only had minor publications, and more importantly I still don’t feel like I’ve captured that initial glow. Each new work gets me closer, and I’m sure its the kind of thing that you know when you have it. Depending on how the current book pans out, maybe that’ll be it.

But this is supposed to be about Murakami. Go read ‘Killing Commendatore.’ It makes uninteresting things interesting. And if you do read it, tell me what you think.

Novel Count: 18,170

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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From a distance, most things look beautiful.

Haruki Murakami, Killing Commendator

Coffee Log, Day 313

Hi.

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

It’s New Years Eve. I guess my clock was a day off because I couldn’t sleep at all last night. I’m exhausted. I might miss the ball drop. Years ago, that’s something that might have bothered me, but I’ve grown comfortable missing out.

There’s this myth that life is the big moments. That’s why there’s an entire industry around weddings. But after the wedding, after you’re back from the honeymoon, what then? I’m as much a fan of pomp and circumstance as anyone, but I worry about those people that live life expecting it. What’s left when the ball drops and the bars close? Just a bunch of guys and gals in jumpers cleaning up the mess.

I read another chapter of Killing Commendatore at 9:30 last night. It might be what kept me up. I wouldn’t call it great. I would call it mesmerizing. The chapter went to great lengths to describe a painting that doesn’t exist. Very Murakami. And there I was in the margins watching a fake man dissect a fake painting. The fan was on. The lights were off. When I tried to sleep, the room was a bit too hot, too bright. But there I was.

On the other side is that modern yuppie zen shit. Culturally appropriated excuses for privileged white adults to work themselves at the bare minimum, thereby buying into a status quo that fully supports them at the expense of other people’s labor. Lazy. A bad look.

So as the year turns 19, old enough to die for her country, too young to get drunk doing it, who are we supposed to be?

I fell in love with Murakami when I read A Wild Sheep Chase in 10th grade. I liked his writing, liked his world, liked the direct and vital sex (I was full of teenage hormones), but most of all I liked this one passage where the narrator is spending days in a hotel room watching an office across the street from his window. There’s guys typing, filing, printing, copying. There’s an office romance that never gets to the surface. It’s all terribly boring. It’s the realest thing in the world.

So even if you miss the ball drop it’s okay as long as you’re missing it because you’re stuck to a complicated, hard, breathing life. There will always be another New Year. There’s only one you.

Novel Count: 8,688

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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festive hearts wane
and sink like tides of joy.

Ben Ditmars, Night Poems