Coffee Log, Day 209

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s

I read a piece about the restructuring of Barry Farm, a historically black (and historically poor) community in Washington, DC. The buildings have been bought up, rezoned, there are plans to make the place a ‘mixed-income’ community. The article follows a photographer who’s been taking pictures to catalogue Barry Farm before the change. She interviews residents. One girl, Dasani Watkins, a recent high-school salutatorian, says: “Yes, bring the change to the neighborhood, but bring it for those people. Don’t push those people out and bring it for someone else.”

Afterward, I read another article, this one about kissatens (showa-era coffee shops) in Tokyo. They’re on their way out. The writer toured a couple backstreets, interviewed the proprietors, all of whom were over 70. One man counted customers on his two hands, and when they asked him why he stayed open without any business he said: “I wouldn’t know what else to do.” The shops are wet bones in tar pits. When the owners are gone, investors will snatch the buildings quick as a funeral.

Basically, change comes to everyone, but not everyone equally. Whatever side of the world you’re on, someone’s stacking you up as a winner or loser. I’m sure people will profit in the new Barry Farm. I’m sure some of them will deserve it. But where do you go when the stones you built your whole life on are ground into someone else’s gravel driveway?

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“It wasn’t like a “see you later.” It was like “goodbye” because you’re not certain if you’re ever going to see these people again. It’s kind of sad — you grew up with them and now they’re gone. They’re going to different neighborhoods, and you don’t know if you’ll ever have that same community again. People don’t talk to each other in [my] new neighborhood. They don’t speak at all.” – Dasani Watkins, quoted from the article “As A D.C. Public Housing Complex Faces Redevelopment, One Teenager Reflects,” by Becky Harlan

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Coffee Log, Day 164

Hi.

Coffee: Fair Trade Five County Espresso Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

America taught you I’m a threat. It taught me the same thing.

I was at the Japanese Festival at the NC State Fair grounds. L invited me. Go back a couple generations and his blood’s risen-sun red. We got there early, walked the stalls. There were many American faces, all cultures, all colors. I watched the snap-crack kendo demo. I watched a cadre of kids running with a tiny paper float on their backs, memories of Yamakasa.

On the way out, we wanted treats. I got some matcha mochi with red-bean paste, shared it with L. It was wrapped in bamboo leaves and AC cold. I liked it – earthy, like the year’s first mowed lawn. L wasn’t a fan so we had extra.

Anyway, standing with L and his wife, watching a Japanese woman pound piano on stage, a girl – maybe 17, 18 – walks by and asks “Where’d you get that?” I pointed her to the dessert stand. Then she tells me her grandmother used to make mochi. She was dressed western but had Japanese ravens in her eyes.

I said: “We’ve got extra if you want it.”

She stopped. Lips open; hands closed. Eyes went so wide all the ravens flew out; she shook her head, slightly. I could see the sweat.

“Ok, cool,” I said. She walked quick and the crowd swallowed her.

I was stunned. The bright warm Saturday had changed: eyes on me, a thousand; I hadn’t planned to wear my fangs to the festival, but here they were.

Girls grow up in America surrounded by long fingers, long stares, machinations to dislodge them from themselves. “Men are predators; men are a threat.” It’s too true not to learn the lesson. Her fear is far more suffering than I’ll know, but the bedtime story warps me too. If every girl is red riding hood, every man is the wolf. I feel you stitch the claws on me; that stiff ragged tail; I don’t want these teeth, but now I have them. A few thousand years of pack-hunting womanhood like African ivory and I’m born an animal. I’m a threat, however little I want to be.

I can’t change those stories, but I’ll keep trying to write new ones.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“Beauty provokes harassment, the law says, but it looks through men’s eyes when deciding what provokes it.” – Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

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Coffee Log, Day 122

Hi.

Coffee: Fair Trade Ethiopian Medium Dark, Harris Teeter Brand

I sat down and almost wrote something about Japan. A bad habit. I don’t want to deal with the gunk of 28 years in NC so I play in Kumamoto, Fukuoka. There’s meaning in escapism, forgiveness if you learn the right lessons from it; I wrote a book about her, the country, the city, the woman I stole a kiss from in Hakata station; I’ve got to stop talking about that separate place.

The weekend’s gotten busy. I’ll be going back to Chapel Hill in an hour to support another writer’s book release. I’m always going back to Chapel Hill. Last night had me there. A month ago. A few years ago. In high school, my dad gave me ten bucks every other week to buy CD’s from Schoolkids. Schoolkids gave up, then it was CD Alley; hard times closed the joint and Schoolkids bought it back. Yeats cycles.

Maybe I’ll never know what to say about a Southern June. Her toes were purple but they’d grown out so the purple only tipped them, pig’s blood; the rest of her was human, stretched leather, you can almost see through but not quite.

June dates me like she’s missing something; she’ll squeeze, squeeze, spritz liquor, collect me in a mason jar, take the stuff back to someone else. We’d always rather be on the other side of the world.

I sat in a tire swing at my parents’ friends’ house at seven years old and watched the chicken coop suffer. They were all inside having barbecue. My mother couldn’t eat, she was vegetarian. It was a nice house. I couldn’t stand it. I’d had my fill of pig’s blood.

Currently Reading:

History of Wolves, Emily Fridlund (2017 Man Booker Prize Shortlist)

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“How did it get so late so soon?” – Dr. Seuss

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Coffee Log, Day 111

Hi.

Coffee: Organic Sumatra Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

Gray skies but it hasn’t rained. I’ve got my window open. I hear the two-tone of cars and crickets. Summer – ghost stories, according to Japan, and I get it – someone’s soul is liable to get lost in the bushy leaves.

School’s out. Lots of parents came by with their kids today. Most deposited a hundred dollars in a kids account. They were all white, all scrawny, a mayonnaise legion. I hope they’ll grow up to lock arms with a big, vibrant phalanx.

I think about story-telling. I’ve been running away from it since third grade when I stood up and answered a question in class, got it wrong, and was laughed at. Such a small thing, but it told me to shut up.

We stayed for two weeks at a camp off the coast of Hiroshima. There were dorms for us, dorms for the kids. One dorm was on a hill and the property owners wouldn’t touch it. Weeds, sheetgrass. Blue and white but faded, your grandfather’s photos of Santorini. On a mixed camp group – elementary to high school – I got stuck with the oldest, brightest, a group of five girls who spoke English with more character than me. We had a barbecue below the old dorms. The girls helped with the young ones, then we all went on a ghost hunt. I marched in front yelling “One, two, one, two!” Every kid was shouting with me. It was the most powerful I’ve ever felt. It was some of the only power I’ve ever felt good about feeling.

When we got up the hill, circled the old dorms, only old wind came to greet us. I’d like to think we scared the ghosts away.

Currently Reading:
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

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“…I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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Coffee Log, Day 107

Hi.

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

My head’s cornmush. One week of 5am mornings is catching up to me; my body will adjust; it hasn’t adjusted yet.

I read a lot of articles today but don’t remember most of them. There’s something to journalism: in the left ear and out the right. It’s supposed to read that way, you take what’s important and aren’t bogged down with the glut. Still, it’s a strange read. If I were wagering, I’d say it’s got something to do with the combination of matter-of-fact exposition and aggressively unfunny witticisms. But who knows…

The one that stuck with me was an article on the Yapese people of the Yap island, a former territory of Japan, currently inhabited by only two Japanese. Japan’s rule was long enough to have an affect on the islanders. They resisted the empire but only so much as any oppressed people can. What struck me was a small fact tucked in a gaudy paragraph about local festivals: unlike most other Micronesian cultures, the Yapese wear no tattoos. They used to, but Japan’s tattoo stigma took them away. For the festival, they still sheen in nut oils, celebrate bare-chested, but there are no more pretty pictures tied on them like brothers.

I don’t have much to make of that fact but it left an impression.

Currently Reading:
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

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“Wear your heart on your skin in this life.” – Sylvia Plath

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Coffee Log, Day 102

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark Roast, Trader Joe’s brand; It’s gotten to the point where I don’t even taste it; well, you don’t taste air either…

A disproportionate amount of my richest memories involve walking. I say ‘disproportionate’ because only a sliver of my life has had much to do with the act. To be clear, I don’t mean the dotted-line walking we all participate in on occasion – the zigs and zags from our car doors – but rather the intentional sort of walk where your body’s motion is the goal.

Tonight, I walked around our apartment after the rain. The stream has gotten gorged and you can see the fishes swimming. It was bright enough but twilight cast everything bronze. The streetlights had nice reflections on the puddles.

I took two important walks in Japan, the combination of which became my first novel. One was intentional and the other less so. The first walk led me through Fukuoka at bleak midnight as we waited for Yamakasa. I was led by the hand of a quiet, clever, fierce Japanese woman who got headaches when she spoke English for too long. The night passed through me like electric coils. I came out the other end, but I hardly recognized myself.

The second walk found me after an impromptu doctor’s appointment. I’d taken the train from Munakata to Fukuoka to visit an international clinic. There were strange white spots on my arm where the hair had lost it’s color. I was terrified, particularly as I was about as far as one could get from the comforts of home. It was a quick visit; the doctor billed me eighty dollars for one word: ‘vitiligo.’ Harmless but defacing, I realized I would only be getting whiter, and suddenly I saw myself a caricature of my white, southern heritage. When the train got me back in Munakata it was too late and the buses had stopped running. I walked three miles on vacant highways as the night hid me from myself. I was met by one runner, a few trucks, and civilizations of crickets.

Every summer, around this time, I dream about Japan. The place left it’s mark in me, though I hardly dented it. I miss the heat, the forests, the mountains, the people – a few people in particular, though they’ve left the country for their own horizons. But the walks came with me. You can take off your shoes but the skin’s still there.

Currently Reading:
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

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“Walking . . . is how the body measures itself against the earth.” – Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

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Coffee Log, Day 101

Hi.

Coffee: Drip from Chik Fil’A; I don’t shop Chik Fil’A due to their outspoken anti-civil rights leanings, particularly when it comes to homosexuality. However, my office manager brought everyone Chik Fil’A this morning and insisted I have something. I had the coffee. It was sour like an old shoe. I appreciated the gesture, though.

I’ve been thinking about trains for no reason in particular. Four years ago, I road a train from Fukuoka to Kumamoto. It was a local line and fed the small towns dotted around mountains and valleys. There weren’t many passengers besides myself. I remember an old man who fell asleep reading the newspaper. I remember a boy and a girl who kept chickening out of holding hands.

My hometown, Burlington, was founded as a train stops. ‘Company Shops’ was it’s old name. There’s a tacky museum in the old carriage house and a lonely Amtrak terminal stuffed in a converted wheelhouse. Since I grew up across the tracks, I’ve got lots of memories of waiting in the car for trains to pass. Some were freight, some passenger, and I’d always try to get a good look at the faces as they whizzed by.

I haven’t been on a train since coming back from Japan. I don’t know the next time I’ll need one. Public transit can be a burden, but it’s one we carry together. Cars are pretty lonely in comparison.

Currently Reading:
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

Fund the Coffee Log 🙂 – https://ko-fi.com/livesaywriting

“Neither a wise man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower
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