Coffee Log, Day 308

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; I asked the barista if she’d had a nice holiday; her eyes got real narrow and she looked like she was about to spit in my drink; eventually, when the coffee came, it was double-cupped; ‘we’re out of sleeves,’ she says; I imagine it took great restraint for her not to burn me for the affront of holiday small-talk. Oh, and the coffee was alright.

And it’s another Wednesday. Christmas is over, the year’s winding down. I’ve still got half my life packed in the backpack I’d taken on the trip to my family. My room feels like a hostel. Holiday vagabonds.

The bank isn’t busy today. No-one wants to acknowledge that life is getting back on track. There’s so many fires to put out, ones you’ve been tossing small glasses of water over for the back half of the year, too busy partying to plan, but now half the forest is coming down. The government is a quarter closed. Two Guatemalan children died this week in US custody along the border. The world won’t wait for you to finish putting away your merriment. We’ve all got something to be responsible for in 2019.

I saw two cats this morning. One was licking the other, getting at the dirt and ticks. I almost stopped to pet them but they seemed so focused on the moment that I didn’t want to intrude. I pulled out of the parking lot feeling a little more committed than before.

Novel Count: 6,375

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

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Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.

Benjamin Franklin


Coffee Log, Day 306

Hi.

Coffee: Bolivian Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; I found a stash; it was enough for one more cup before heading home for the holidays; tastes like it always does, a little earthy, rich, welcoming, but not giving up any secrets.

Can’t sleep on Christmas Eve. I’ve been up since 3:00, had hardly slept before that. Maybe my body remembers that old anticipation of being a kid on Christmas. Or maybe I should work out more, eat healthier, drink less caffeine, etc etc…

There was this tradition in my house where we’d get up super early on Christmas. It was my Mom’s idea. We started at 7:00, then as the years went by it crept back toward 5:00. I didn’t care, I was young and on vacation and couldn’t sleep anyway. But I think it was a bit of brinksmanship between my parents – who’s going to miss the alarm first?

My family wasn’t religious. Christmas wasn’t about thanking anyone but the people around you. We’d get up before the sun and light the whole house with candles. My mother had an incense spinner that would push these fan blades around and make little wooden figures dance. There was the incandescent tree (this was back before LED bulbs were all the rage).

My favorite decoration was the Christmas village. I’d spend afternoons in December setting up scenes in fake plastic snow. There would be the people dancing on the ice rink, the caroling peddlers, little lit storefronts selling sweets or violins. I saw myself walking in a perpetual holiday haze. It doesn’t snow on a Southern Christmas, so that little town had to do.

As everyone gets older, the decorations scale back. I’ll go home and help them set out the last ornaments on the tree. And that’s okay – tiny plastic houses are numbers in a checkbook now; there’s bigger, warmer ways to spend time with your family. But in the end we all lose a little magic. It’s hard to get lost in the corners of an old home when you’re busy trying to build a new one.

Novel Count: 5,846 (though if you’re counting drafted chapters, it’s probably closer to 25,000 by now

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

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Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.

Laura Ingalls Wilder


Coffee Log, Day 285

Hi.

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

When I think about Christmas, I think of a thrift store off Main. I’m pretty sure it isn’t there anymore. In fact, I’m pretty sure the store only lasted a few years, and I only went to it once or twice.

Anyway, it was on this side road in East Burlington that if you took long enough would either get you to the middle school or to Graham. It was in an old, hollowed out brick building that had fallen on hard times, it was lit like an ER, there were old black particle-board tables set in rows and cardboard boxes full of stuff obliterating the even lines. The owners were old ladies. So what I’m saying is, the thrift store was nothing unusual.

I went there with my Mom. I think it might have been after school, or maybe it was a weekend. Either way it was dark outside. We were Christmas shopping. Not for the family, rather the ancillary gifts you put a few dollars and two cents into in hopes of warming up the people you sort of know and would like to know better. We walked around for an hour and I got bored. There were tinsel wreaths. There were craft ceramics. I bought a tiny straw angel for a family I knew took angels seriously. Then we left.

But that whole store was Christmas to me: a dim, uncomplicated lull of gift-giving; the cheap earnest dressings; the streetlight evening through the windows; I think they were playing Christmas songs on a scratchy record player.

Anyway, that thrift store has been on my mind lately. I’m glad it was there. I wonder if anyone else remembers it?

Novel Count: 15,069 words

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

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Why they were loaded with bags of beans and peas and anything else they happened to pick up when they were still some distance away from the street where the first blind man and his wife lived, for that is where they are going, is a question that could only occur to someone who has never in his life suffered shortages.

Jose Saramago, Blindness


Coffee Log, Day 284

Hi.

Coffee: Bolivian Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; I couldn’t remember if I’d ever had it and now that I’ve tried it I know that I had; it’s sweet on the first gulp, sour on the second, and by the end of the pot your insides are grumbling like two old men arguing about Nationalism.

I spent half an hour in a Target yesterday trying to find some face cream. We’re getting to winter, the dry cold breaks me out.

The Target was already packed for the holidays. One of the clerks told me they were having a 10% off giftcard sale, so maybe that’s why. It’s a big store, one of those they like to slap ‘super’ on the side of, but even so the aisles were jammed and frustrated families were snagging their carts together. In other words, nothing special for the season.

I’ll tell you a secret: I like those sorts of crowds. I like the sounds of it: all those voices stacked together like a layer cake. I like the nervous energy, the coy competition, the fervor around a bright yellow sticker with a price on it. I’m sure there’s a bucketfull of issues about consumerism and wage inequality stuck in there (some of which I’ve probably brought up on this very blog), but despite that, the holiday department store is the closest thing you get to a communal event in modern America and I’ll take what community I can get.

I found the face cream on an aisle I thought I’d already been down. It was hiding beside a few bottles of shampoo.

Novel Count: 14,846 words

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

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When I shop, the world gets better, and the world is better, but then it’s not, and I need to do it again.

Sophie Kinsella


Coffee Log, Day 270

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

Thanksgiving feels like it was yesterday. Instead, it’s three days from now.

Holidays are like a spring cleaning: you beat the rugs on the balcony; you clear out the corners.

There was a little while I was on crutches. This was years ago, ten of them actually. It was summer. I was in High School. I was spending the summer at an NC academic camp in Winston Salem called Governor’s School. A six week program, I tore my ACL in the first week playing ping pong. It’s not that I was good at ping pong, rather that I was bad at it.

So they stuck me on crutches for a month. It was awkward, I was young. I felt like a sore thumb – I hurt and I stood out. But I made do.

The way the classes were set up, everyone took two a day and then had a couple free periods. You could fill those with homework or seminars or whatever else. My schedule left me this big block of hours in the morning, 10am to 1pm. There wasn’t much going on and not a lot of people out. Hobbling already, I got stir crazy.

I started taking walks to Ollie’s Bakery. Ollie’s is now closed. They served fluffy scones and vanilla lattes. They had a corner of a road about a mile away, a little brick building, not enough room to think or worry when you were in there, you’d get full on the smells. The trip took me through Old Salem and across a creek. Then it was a hop and skip through this faded industrial district. It wasn’t a long walk, but it was arduous on the crutches. Again, I made do.

I’m remembering this now because it’s important to remember that first time you felt independent. Holidays will put a lot of old sweaters on you: that scratchy-wool love. They’ll show you everyone that has a hand in your pot. They’ll also show you who’s missing.

But no matter how much your family or friends or people you wish were around might matter, when you’ve cleared the clutter and put all the boxes away it’s just you in an apartment, early morning, a torn knee. You can walk to the cafe or sit at home. Either way, the joy is only your own.

Novel Count: 10,411 words

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

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He fell off the table like a crab looking for the sea.

Charles Bukowski



Coffee Log, Day 252

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium-Dark, Trader Joe’s Brand; when it sits out a few hours, good and cold, and you grab a mouthful and hold it there on the back of your tongue, it tastes real good; new pair of shoes.

I spoke with a middle-aged lady in a denim dress with black cropped hair. She had teacher’s glasses, or maybe librarian’s. Her posture was prime. Her figure was a stick. I asked her if she’d had a nice Halloween.

“Oh,” she says, “We don’t do that. We celebrate Reformation Day.”

And we looked each other dead-on and it was awkward for a sec.

2018 doesn’t teach you how to talk to people. Sure, there’s lots of communication – texts, message boards, the meet-up you do every other Wednesday at the pool bar – but there’s no art to flapping your lips at the familiar. We’ve gotten so good at finding the like-minded to give our time that we’re blindsided when someone with different views comes along. In some ways, I imagine it’s always been so. People are tribal. You stick to your tribe. But I also think that old cave-carving tradition of huddling around a fire and waving sticks at whoever approaches is comically sad.

So I said: “Oh yeah? I’m not familiar. What’s involved with Reformation Day?”

Stick lady lit up. You could tell she was gearing for a fight and this was something other. Her little lips went northward and I watched those glasses bob. Pretty soon, though, she straightened herself and started talking: “Well, it has to do with Martin Luther.”

This much I had gathered. What I hadn’t, though, is that she sits the whole family down in a warm den. There’s a movie on, something Christian, and her husband watches with the kids while she gets things ready. In the kitchen, she’s working a special kind of magic. She files a pretzel to a mock stake ‘like so,’ bakes a big sheet of rice krispy treats, and carefully writes out Luther’s Theses in sweet syrup. When it’s done, they pause the movie and share the meal and talk about a radical faith that’s far removed from anything I believe, but they talk about it earnestly.

When they’re done, it’s another night in bed, another morning, and here we are together, me and her, having had two separate celebrations but sharing the same air, the same blood, the same label of ‘America’ with all it’s horrors and glories.

I thanked her for the story. She started walking. When she was almost out the door, I said “Happy Reformation Day.”

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

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“‎What you do in your house is worth as much as if you did it up in heaven for our Lord God. We should accustom ourselves to think of our position and work as sacred and well-pleasing to God, not on account of the position and work, but on account of the word and faith from which the obedience and work flow.” – Martin Luther

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