Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 138

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee; most days I’m the one to make the coffee but that didn’t happen; my partner across the hall had set the machine; it came out tasting similar to all those other times I’ve had this cheap, industrial, toddler-pulling-her-pigtails exasperated blend, but it had the added spice of someone else’s work; the coffee tasted like wet sand

There’s a picture of me at 17 wearing someone else’s hat. I’m in a Barnes & Noble. The record section. Before or after the picture, I’ll pick up a record by Battles and fall in love with math rock. And speaking of love, I’ll go back to a dorm room at Governor’s School and play that record so loud I make lifelong friends with a suite-mate, a guy named A. The music only goes off when there’s this girl I like. She comes into our common room and puts on the soundtrack to Moulin Rouge. In the peat-stench of summer evening, she coats my fingers in nail-polish remover then strikes a match and tries to ignite my hand.

Life happens less vividly the more you’re in control over it. That’s why getting older drains you. You have money, a car, a job, autonomy, or at least ten fingers to scrape and claw, you know exactly where the food is and how to find it. You trade out your mysteries. No, it’s not the world that will hurt and surprise you – it’s yourself.

I’ve been building plastic models like a fire might go out. At this point, I’m up to four. I find it relaxing to file down small pieces with my naked hands, and satisfying to hear the snap when pre-ordained parts fit together. Start at nothing, work your way to a familiar image. I’m not the lifelong actor but an architect. If life can’t surprise me, then the least I can do is find the best ways to make it fit.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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She put on her lace collar. She put on her new hat and he never noticed; and he was happy without her.

Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 124

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

You never know the moments that’ll stick with you while you’re living them. Well, okay, sometimes you do – your first taste of ice cream, sweet things that don’t go away. But for all the rest, it’s like filling up a slow-cooker, so only years on do you know what your life truly tasted like.

There was a koi pond at Salem College, about six feet long, three feet wide. I say ‘was’ but I assume it’s still there. The pond was next to the student affairs office. It was in the middle of the small campus. There were two benches beside it and a bluster of greenery poking over one end. On hot days, the greenery attracted hornets and flies. On cooler days, it drew in the mosquitoes.

I remember that pond vividly, even though it’s been years since I’ve seen it. I went to a summer camp on Salem’s Campus when I was 17, but I first met the pond a year before. This was 2006. I was visiting a friend a grade ahead of me. She was at Governor’s School for orchestra, she played the violin. I was young and dumb and had brought roses for her performance but I left them in the car. That’s what you do when you’re 16 – you leave behind what’s most important.

After the concert, we hung around for half an hour getting to know each other again. It had been a year since I’d seen her and everything changes. We walked along the campus walks and ended up by the koi pond. Some of her friends had gathered there to celebrate the concert. They were orchestra kids so everyone was in tuxes except for me. I felt out of touch. I was a Christian in Tibet, holding hard to my own foreign faith.

I couldn’t tell you what any of us talked about. I couldn’t tell you what I did or didn’t say to the girl. But I remember the pond – cut to triangles by the amber lampposts, water running back and forth like aired blankets – it looked like where I wanted to be, and the great gulf of all the oceans that kept me from it.

The next year, at the camp myself, I spend much more time around the koi pond, and most notably I recall running away from yellow-jackets. Things change. But nothing digs so deep that it scoops out your most important memories.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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An old silent pond…

A frog jumps into the pond,

splash! Silence again.

Matsuo Basho

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 123

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

There’s a certain kind of smell that only surfaces in early evening. It’s got to be light out, but not so light that you’re comfortable putting one foot in front of the other. It’s got to be warm, not hot, and cool, not cold. There should be leaves on the trees but not so many leaves that you can’t see the shapes scurrying through the branches. Somewhere within walking distance – but out of sight – must be a moderately busy road.

The back of your lover’s neck coaxed out from under the covers, eight hours of untouched time still sticking to it. That’s the smell.

I’m off one drug and onto another. The past week has been exhausting, a bad reaction, a panic attack without the panic. I’ll start the new drug, an SSRI, on Monday, and who knows whether it will help me, or change me, or do anything at all to me, but I’m interested (and a little apprehensive) about the ride.

There’s no one answer to life. But there are evenings where the air smells like old memories, and that’s usually enough.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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My day is done, and I am like a boat drawn on the beach, listening to the dance-music of the tide in the evening.

Rabindranath Tagore, Stray Birds

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 109

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

College is mostly an ink blotch to me. To be honest, most of my life looks like that when I try to remember it, but college in particular. I know I attended. I know I spent four years at Duke University studying – what was it again? I’ll be damned if I could pin down too many of the memories, though.

Today I talked to a Freshman at UNC. Our conversation was brief. He’s going to school for business. He was wearing a purple polo, the slick kind, for golf. He had his hair done like every college Freshman. He was asking me questions but kept interrupting the answers.

I get nervous around people like that. I start to wonder how many of the same boxes I used to tick. It puts me in a nostalgic mood. I start thinking about school and try picking apart what it meant to me. I see a neon streak of faces. Some friends, some acquaintances, no-one I still know. There’s one crisp memory of standing in line at a coffee shop that doesn’t exist anymore. The barista’s speaking Spanish, even though he’s a white American guy, and it’s the first time I realize that people are complicated.

I had some bad dreams last night. I’ll spare you the details, but in each of them was a bright room I couldn’t get out of. Nothing like being trapped with yourself. I worry sometimes that I’m two people. Or three, or… In all these inky dark spots, who’s hiding? I think about the me that comes out sometimes – needy, scared, possessive. I think about the dreams I didn’t follow, and wonder how long it’ll be until they cannibalize me.

You know, the old myth, twins in a stomach, twisting the cord.

I used to think I knew everything. Yeah, I know what that sounds like, and yes, I was that much of a prick. In particular, though, I thought I knew everything about ‘me.’ I had a memory that stretched back two dozen years, all of it annotated. I could pin-point what I was doing most days from elementary to my first job after school. Now, though, I’ve lost that memory. It’s been gone for a few years. What I once took as ‘fixed’ looks ‘wavy,’ ‘certain’ became ‘confused,’ cats and dogs, etc. Giving it all up, I got a lot more humble.

Tonight had me thinking about college. I like to see myself in the Bryan Center, a student commons, eating food, thinking about you. Only I never know who the ‘you’ is and when I look down, there’s nothing on my plate.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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You’re sure your new roommate won’t be like the last one who wore tinfoil socks and had a tendency to occasionally urinate in the refrigerator. You’re sure you’ll pass Math 106 this time around. You’re determined to actually join some clubs this year and not just sit around in your dorm eating spray cheese from a can and watching youtube videos about cats.

Patrick Rothfuss

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

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

Kristen Henderson, Of My Maiden Smoking

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 44

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; Gray skies and wet roads, I always feel like driving after a rain; so I drove to Caribou and got coffee; their intercom was broken so they had a big handwritten sign that said “Say HELLO! and we’ll hear you;” I said ‘hey’ and they took my order; waiting for the drink, I caught three baristas laughing; one of them caught me spying through the drive-thru; she buttoned right up and said “Here you go, have a good one,”; I could hear that laughter like blue birds as I drove away; But what am I saying: the coffee was good, mellow, like a dark chocolate bar that’s still got a bit of sugar in it, enough to sweeten out the rough notes, the roots, the tang that comes with anything that grows out of soil.

I went to Chapel Hill. A was in town, I haven’t seen him in years. He’d grown his hair out and had it slicked back like someone who’s seen some things. It was a good look but I kept forgetting to tell him that.

We spent a few hours re-getting to know each other. A’s still in school, though he’ll be finished soon, and we were with J who’s damn close to a full fledged doctor (well, he’s already a doctor, but not quite in the working world). Meanwhile I’m cracking jokes. I don’t know how to react when someone asks me what I’m doing. I say something witty and cynical about working for a bank. I talk about the starving artist that I am, though I exaggerate the starving part and maybe the artist too. Whatever honest question they might have I’ve got a comeback. I’m quick today. I’m snappy. Everyone’s laughing. I’m doing well. I’m not saying a single thing without color.

Isn’t it strange how much we lie to our friends?

After walking them back to their Air BnB, I stroll through the luscious houses around UNC’s campus. The trees are green and the flowers are in bloom. I’m caught in seven years ago when I used to live near here. I remember walking late nights from our apartment into town. It misses me – my old life bundled in some other train, heading a different direction, gone without stopping – I got off track. And that’s a good thing, I think, so I keep going, trying to stay present, but I’m in and out of different years the whole way home. There’s the spot where A and I used to talk about society. There’s where we’d meet R for dinner. There’s the auditorium that H would sing at, where I’d feel uncomfortable trying to get whatever woman I was with to love me, and there’s the art museum that can’t contain those nice memories of when I met my cousins, or any early days I used to visit, because it’s full up with one simple afternoon spent walking around with you. That’s the freshest memory of all of them. I walk right past it too.

I start thinking: who else had I been lying to? Ten years of train stations locked and boarding in this one small college town and somehow I was always saying goodbye to the wrong things. I’d tell you I’d be happier in Michigan. I’d tell you I’d drink through my liver. I’d tell you all these stories of distant people and places – some happy, some sad – and hop in the car to carry me off wherever. But when the dust had settled and none of the trees or highways remembered me, I’d come back to the same place and do it all over again. An endless cycle of witty one-liners, mis-directed promises. Vibrant and cyclical like a southern Spring.

Novel Count: 36,889

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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Again and again, the cicada’s untiring cry pierced the sultry summer air like a needle at work on thick cotton cloth.

Yukio Mishima, Runaway Horses

Coffee Log, Day 359

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House, Office drip

I woke up remembering the one time I knew this girl to have short hair. That was a while ago – 2009. Since then, she’s grown it out to wear with gowns shown off on Miss America. Before then, I knew her to have the perky ponytail every white girl in high school has.

What a heady time.

In 2009 I was a college Freshman. I had a single dorm with a window that looked down on the gym. It was always fuzzy behind a mosquito net. Years away from knowing how to read, write, do my taxes, or much at all about who I am, that perforated magic; missing thoughts; open questions; swiss cheese.

That night was cold if I remember. Hell, it might have been February. She’d been staying at UNC so we took the bus back to Duke. That might have been the problem, turning everything a darker shade of blue. We snuck through the weekend and upstairs to my tiny room. We closed the blinds so the gym rats couldn’t see us. And we sat down. I only had one chair, we took the floor. She was in the drabbest gray sweatshirt. She had a boyfriend back in Maryland. Halfway through the movie though, our hands couldn’t stop each other.

Next morning, winter was broken. Sun came down like mimosas. ‘Oh well,’ I thought, ‘Some good things are also bad.’

But the thing that stuck with me – after we got past the guilt of something surreptitious and on with our separate lives – was that her hair was short. She had this light brown hair. She’d play with it the summer I met her. And in current pictures it’s long and highlighted. That night, though, it was cut in a rough bob just below her ears. Almost like she’d hacked it off herself.

What was she missing? And did she find it in me?

Novel Count: 23,904

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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And I’m feelin’ like we should d-d-duck away
Netflix and Dusse

Smino, Neflix & Dusse