Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 37

Hi.

Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

I had the house to myself today. It was a strange feeling.

My roommates and I have known each other for 15 years. We’re good enough friends to not feel pressured to spend time together, and there are many days that I don’t so much as say ‘hi’ to them. That said, it’s a different feeling to be in the apartment and know that you’re alone.

R is on a trip to the mountains. E is away with friends. As far as I know, they’re happy and healthy. As far as they know, so am I.

And I have been happy and healthy today, eating well, taking a walk around the block to feel the pine pollen usher spring. It was a good day. Productive. I opened the deck doors to let the cool air in. I had one beer, not one-too-many.

But it still feels different being here by myself. The absence of familiar faces brings something eerie inside. A withered gray dog that sleeps in the darkest corner and moves to another room when you try to touch it. There’s a palpability to solitude that I’m not used to. In all honesty, I’ve never really lived alone.

The closest I got were two years in the dormitories at Duke. I lucked out on a single my Freshman year and again for my Junior. But even then I was living in a building with a bunch of other classmates. We shared a single bathroom and there was always someone in the halls.

When I was a kid, I used to dream of living alone. Having my own space, no-one to bother me. And more recently, I’ve thought of buying property, both to root me somewhere and build a bit of equity. But on days like this where the late winter mixes it’s hair over spring’s shoulder, and the gray clouds threaten all day to rain down but never do, I wonder if I’ve got the fortitude for true alone-ness – the stomach to stare down the gray old dog in the corner; the composure to let it watch me from the darkest angles of my home.

Novel Count: 35,930

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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Solitude is fine but you need someone to tell that solitude is fine.

Honore de Balzac

Coffee Log, Day 296

Hi.

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

I drive back to Burlington with a scratchy cough and a bottle of Advil. The streets are disappearing in fog.

I went home for a belated birthday get together with family. We met in a crowded Mexican restaurant where I used to know all the waiters but now I know some of the waiters. It was cold and crowded and loud and bright with pink string lights set out for Christmas. It was comfortable but nothing like I remember.

Later, I met friends for dinner at an empty Chinese sit-down. They were running Greensboro news. The food was so-so. The staff was familiar. They hadn’t aged. We each got soup with the dinner and most of us gave our soups to C. He had so many soups you’d think he were trying to drown, but pleasantly. We finished eating and my fortune told me to follow my heart.

Cold old roads, cracked winter pavement.

Novel Count: (on hiatus while I recover from this cold)

Currently Reading: Cherry, Nico Walker (Finished! Mixed feelings overall; I’ll try to get to a review this weekend)

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Under the thinning fog the surf curled and creamed, almost without sound, like a thought trying to form inself on the edge of consciousness. – Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep

Coffee Log, Day 247

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; a blue cup, a burnt roast, a cloudy day.

It was J’s birthday. Well, the celebration anyway, the actual date’s tomorrow. We got together at the Cracker Barrell. There were seven of us. They gave us the round table past the fireplace. It was busy at restaurant, brisk like night air, they had the ceiling fans turning so it mixed up all the smells. I played checkers. I made excuses to keep passing by the fire. J looked happy, I think we all were. It felt like home.

I’m two cups of black coffee, a white plastic plate, the fork with a dish-soap stain, feet under the table knocking wet socks until they’re warm.

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

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“I drink to the general joy o’ the whole table.” – William Shakespeare, Macbeth

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Coffee Log, Day 214

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

I talked to a friend who said if he had more money the only change he’d make is that he’d travel more. I talked to a retired divorcee who’s selling Triangle property to move to an aluminum cabin he built for himself in Alaska. I talked to my mother who said she’d like to see Vienna someday and my father who said if he ever got to go to Korea the first thing he’d visit is the DMZ. In college, I paid two grand to study dead cultures in Greece; in 2014, I paid about the same to teach in Japan.

Why do we try so hard to get some place where we aren’t recognized? Is it privilege? Restlessness? The wide-eyed pastures of American culture? When you look in the mirror and see pajamas, a button down, no bags packed in the periphery, where does the stress come from, the shame, the disappointment?

So many posted pictures of places you barely recognize, showing off other peoples’ lives like they’re your own. Spend one more minute alone in your own bedroom and you’ll have to reckon with what you’ve made of yourself. You only stick around when the money’s gone, only pay attention to the street of premium parking lots where there used to be someone’s backyard if you can’t afford the next ticket out of town.

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

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“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.” – Anthony Bourdain

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Coffee Log, Day 203

Hi.

Coffee: Sumatra Medium-Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s

The bank closed early. It was cloudy for the drive home. For now, we still have power. The storm hasn’t hit us yet. Likely, it won’t do much here. It’ll veer south and uproot peach trees in South Carolina. It’ll water-log the mountains. On the maps, we’re just outside the zone.

I’ve got my fan going and the lights off, I want to keep the room cool in case we lose AC. I’m watching fusses of rain start-stopping outside. Before I’d ever traveled, North Carolina seemed like an incredibly normal place. Having been a few other places now, I see the cracks in that old understanding. So much of the world is wracked with natural disasters: drought, wildfires, tropical storms. So much of the world has crumbling infrastructure, rampant conflict. But central NC is placid. There’s hardship, sure, but it keeps itself below the overpasses, beside the train-tracks, miles off the highway – out of sight and in the margins. For many people – myself included – the place is safe and and dull.

Everyone has a different idea of paradise. I can still taste the ripeness of a Kyushu morning. But in the end, your home is undoubtedly someone else’s paradise, and if you were ever to venture one of those dreamed-up hotspots as your own home, the cream would slowly melt like room temperature butter.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“The true paradises are the paradises that we have lost.” – Marcel Proust

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Coffee Log, Day 193

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast from Sheetz; the taste was a nice mix of cardboard and acetone.

I drove to Pilot Mountain. I started to climb it. The trail was tough. I was wearing jeans, it was hot and humid. I didn’t have much water. I was alone. I walked back down and drove to the peak. It was busy on the peak, lots of families. There’s a short climb from the summit to a rocky overlook. I took it. No-one was on the overlook with me. North Carolina was more green than I’d ever seen her. I searched the tobacco farms and treestands, highways like shriveled veins. I didn’t find anything. In the end, I drove down Pilot Mountain without knowing why I’d come.

Why do we travel? I’m sure everyone has their own answers, or at least you might stumble into one if you searched hard enough. In the past, I thought I traveled for stories. In a sense I still do – I’m writing about my day-trip, telling you all about it. But stories are everywhere and I’ve always had the sense there’s something else going on, a nagging drive, a persistent bug-bite.

The drive home was bright. The drive over was cloudy. Both trips I kept the windows down and music turned loud. I had my old iPod – a relic from 11th grade – set to shuffle; I was partying with ten years worth of memories. I’ve moved since 2007. I’m not a Burlington-bound straggler, though I’m still Burlington born. I’ve done three stints in Durham, one in Chapel Hill, I’ve settled on Cary like old geese, too fed up with flying to join the flock again. Each place I’ve lived has had a different sound, from early aughts indie to vibrant 2010 punk bands. What I’m saying is: all of those homes are stable, codified.

But not travel.

I saw a big spider before I turned around on the ascent. It was making webs between two dead trees, both bleached like surfer girls. It had white spots on its legs and a ruddy body. It was horrible, innocent, and interesting, and most of all it was something I’d never have to see again. We can be anything when we travel. When you’re in company, that anything is a perfect pocket world where it’s easier to understand each other. When you travel alone, you’re free even from that. There’s no fixed point to look at and say: ‘Ah! This is something that understands me!’ You can crawl up the cracked-rock road and peel every spider from its branches; you can crush leaves and topple sprouting flowers; in bleak nature, you begin to see your features like staring too long in the campfire, eyes dry, head hurting, but arms and legs capable of dancing great, horrible shadows across the forest floor. Or, you are free to turn back and walk to your comfortable car with it’s predictable clutch, take a short drive up a mountain, and stare a little lonely at the valley you sometimes call your home.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“I am awfully greedy; I want everything from life. I want to be a woman and to be a man, to have many friends and to have loneliness, to work much and write good books, to travel and enjoy myself, to be selfish and to be unselfish… You see, it is difficult to get all which I want. And then when I do not succeed I get mad with anger.” – Simone de Beauvoir

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Coffee Log, Day 185

Hi.

Coffee: Americano from The Blend, Burlington NC; honey covered pecans, a pie too early in the year, warmly unexpected.

I went home. Capital ‘H,’ Burlington, NC, where I was born. I sat downtown with my phone off. Guys in tank tops crossed the road; the amphitheater was setting up for a wedding.

I ran into two old faces: H, a high school classmate I barely remember, stops me on his way out of the cafe. Tells me where he’s  working, he’s got more beard than ten years ago, cleaner eyes.

I saw L. Once, a different summer, years ago, bent into old-day memory like kneading dough, we went to an open mic in Hillsborough and I wrote a travel blog about it. Tumblr – it was a hot site back then – I kept the blog for three posts then forgot about it. Now I’m here.

Thanks for the belated inspiration, L.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich; FINISHED!! Will have a review soon

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“I remember awakening one morning and finding everything smeared with the color of forgotten love.” – Charles Bukowski

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