Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 101

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

The psychiatrist was wearing two rings and a gold watch. One ring was set with a large, red stone. Not a ruby, it was more solid than that.

We sat in the brown office together. He had spreadsheets pulled up on his computer but I couldn’t tell if they had to do with me. I was occupied with two things, mostly – whether or not the heat in the office was making sweat visible as it was stringing down my armpits; and how not to get devoured by the big blue leather couch.

It was a breezy meeting. In at 4:15, out by 4:45. I liked that.

The only thing notable about the psychiatrist, aside from his jewelry, was the way he sat. He kept both legs planted on the ground. Pay attention to people resting and you’ll notice not many of them do that. It’s much more comfortable if your knees are crossing.

As I told him my life in bullet points, he’d lean forward or back with his elbows on his knees. He’d go close when he was asking questions and lean back for dramatic moments. He didn’t say much. He seemed more comfortable with the explaining – here’s where all the cords connect, and this is what we’ll do to cut them. He had the same joy listing side effects as your fattest uncle does cutting into thanksgiving pies.

Behind the computer, about two feet deeper on the desk, was a miniature bookshelf. They were big books, medical, and most were red. The way the sun was going through the office window, those reds looked much like a bed of old, withered flowers, or rusted tools, or the jewel on the psychiatrist’s ring. It made me think there must be a connection between that color and the man, that he was so confounded by it he had to surround himself. We’re drawn most deeply to things we can’t quite figure out. We want to be known by the shiny charms that are just a bit too expensive for us. Always stepping two feet further than the last man you saw walk the diving board, stiff as death and chest extended, close to slipping towards deep, blue water.

At the end of the visit, he prescribed me pills to treat a mild, chronic depression. He said they’d make things feel like something instead of nothing. I wanted to ask him what it ought to feel like to see red books cast in summer sunlight, but didn’t get the chance. After a month of taking the pills, at our next visit, maybe I’ll have my own answer.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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Long ago, to isolate themselves from a world of beasts, humans began building cities. But since beasts prowl within stone walls as well as outside them, this did not allay human fears. The truth is, walls guarantee no one’s safety. The place where you lock yourself in and lock all else out – that’s not your home. Your home is sometimes a place you travel long and far to find.

Marcin Blacha, Head Writer for ‘The Witcher 3’, a videogame; quote given by character Geralt of Rivia

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 72

Hi.

Coffee: Pike Place from the Apartment Office Lounge

When I was fifteen, my parents took me to see a psychiatrist. This was on recommendation from my counselor. I was pissed.

“Drugs? Really?”

Yeah, yeah, I was depressed, and yeah, yeah, I’d cut a pin-sized hole in my wrist, but DARE or some more darkly personal fear had given me the notion that psychoactive drugs were bad news, period. Still, I was fifteen, so I was obliged to go.

The psychiatrist was a nice guy. His office was in Chapel Hill. He made me take some tests, talked to me for an hour, recommended me a book (Sophie’s World, which would lead me a few years later to a degree in philosophy). It was a pleasant time. It felt productive. At the end of the visit, he tells me that my brain is most likely not producing enough serotonin. That’s when he tells me I should take these pills.

“Fuck no,” I said. “I’d spit them out.” I really meant it. To his credit, the guy saw I was serious, and to their credit, my parents did too. I never took the medicine.

That was fifteen years ago.

This morning I woke up at 5am unintentionally. I’d gotten to sleep at 1am. Thin white serpents of self-doubt had wriggled into bed with me. I’m pretty liberal about who shares my bed, but the serpents were too much.

So I spend the morning going from one room to another trying to find where I’d put myself the night before. Not in the kitchen, cause I had no appetite to eat. Not in the bathroom, because I had no strength to disrobe for the shower. And not at the dining-room nook I often write at because my ideas were still grappling with the serpents, numbed by their poison, strangled by their old white skin.

For the past fifteen years, I’ve worked hard to change myself. By now, many of the changes are tangible. I work out regularly. I eat better. I write daily. I’m more open-minded. I’m a proud man. I can proudly say I’ve taken every bit of advice to better suit my lifestyle to a disrupted brain. And – though it’s difficult for me – I want to proudly say none of that has been enough.

I made an appointment with a psychiatric practice in North Raleigh. Their earliest date was a month from now so that’s what I took. When the lady asked whether I was looking for medicated treatment or talk therapy, I paused for a second, got this stammer I get sometimes when I’m nervous, and cleared my throat: then I said “Medicated, for sure.”

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

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It’s not a silly question if you can’t answer it.

Jostein Gaardner, Sophie’s World


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 55

Hi.

Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

I drove to Richmond. I parked in front of the hostel I’d booked. Three people walked in. One walked out. Downtown was busy. The highways were stacked on top of each other. Some of the highways were being worked on, scaffolding. I drove past closed store-fronts. I drove past anxious pedestrians. This city wasn’t aware of itself. It was too busy. Everyone had somewhere to be.

That’s where my story with Richmond stops.

For almost thirty years now, I’ve been in a long-term love affair with social anxiety. It comes and goes, dates me or leaves me, shows up when I don’t want it, misses me when I feel that dead weight wondering why it isn’t there. I can’t always predict it, but sometimes I can. We lock lips on a burning boat, or a private mountain, busy enough with each other to cut off the rest of the world.

It feels like this: first, I’m sweating. There’s knots. My lower back locks. My head aches. I’m suddenly starving, but too nauseated to eat. Talking is like coughing sand. All the while, my mind’s on fire. Wherever I’m at, whoever I’m with, I feel like I have to earn the right to share space with them. I feel not allowed to be around anyone. Stuck in grade school as the rest of the class graduates on and it’s all my fault for not having done the work.

So anyway, I sat outside the hostel for half an hour watching people going in and out. I called a friend, tried to calm down, but the sweat kept pouring from my neck and arms and palms, a cracked-open fire-hydrant, welcome in the summer, dangerously intoxicating. When I’d sat out the half hour, I turned the car and drove two and a half hours back home.

I failed this journey I’d set for myself. I couldn’t commit to travel. I didn’t prove to myself that I’ve still got something – that fiery will to lunge into strange, uncomfortable places – and maybe I’ve actually lost it, or maybe it’s simply changed. Regardless, as I write this from my calm, familiar apartment, I refuse to hide myself in despair. I refuse to shame myself for failing. I am not perfect, I am not limitless, I am not capable of overcoming every demon all the time, but that just makes me human. What else should I want to be?

It’s been better today. A vibrant summer thunderstorm scratches at my window. My roommates are both gone, I’m quiet, I’m peaceful, I’m alone. Do I regret not staying in Richmond? That’s complicated. A good friend said ‘There’s nothing wrong with seeking what makes you comfortable.’ I know that I’ve missed something by not staying in Richmond, but I found something else instead.

It’s hard to write this. This isn’t my best blog. I can’t get the words together the way I want them. My lover twists around my keyboard, muddling up my fingers. But I believe in being honest. You sink into your own darkest corners if you stay hidden. And you set a bad example: everyone else is encouraged to keep to their corners, too.

I want two things: to allow myself the humanity of being imperfect; and to encourage everyone who reads this to accept those feverish, haunting lovers – anxiety, depression, whatever unique ghosts of your mind – as sometimes-partners, difficult and clingy, but nothing to be hidden. Wear your worst self like a wristwatch. Keep track of your flaws. Be proud of their color. Adamantly reject shame.

We’re all in this together, even when it feels like we’re farthest apart.

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.

Stephen Fry, Moab is my Washpot


Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 27

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

For two minutes in the cutting 7pm cold, I saw a long-haired white and black cat. It was sitting on some stones.

I had dinner at a Thai restaurant. Spicy curry. It was full of carrots and snap peas. Who puts carrots and snap peas in their curry?

This afternoon, I looked at the dishwasher and saw it was full. I considered making it empty. I’ve got dishes to put in. In the end, I didn’t do anything other than look at it.

My brain isn’t screwed in right. I’ve been working, writing. I’ve been successful. I’ve spent time with friends. I’ve gotten drinks with coworkers. I’ve walked in the rain and watched black crows take cover. I’ve done the things I love. I’m not at all happy. It’s a weird feeling. Admitting it feels weirder. But I think it’s important to be honest about uncomfortable things, otherwise no-one else will feel comfortable being honest about uncomfortable things.

You could call it depression.

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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On a bare branch a crow is perched – autumn evening

Basho


Coffee Log, Day 326

Hi.

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

There were rumors of snow on the forecast but we only got rain. C’est la vie.

A cold day. I woke up by knocking over the glass of water on my nightstand. It landed on the carpet and soaked an old laptop, thankfully one I’ve backed up most everything I need from. I haven’t yet turned the thing on to see if it still works. I don’t know that I need to. Let the old dog sleep.

I’ve felt a change in myself lately. It’s surprised me, but it’s also safe to say the change was pre-meditated. After so much banging against this or that wall, I knew I had to throw a wrench in what I’d been doing. Most of my life has been one high speed chase toward complex, specific, largely unattainable goals.

For the past few weeks – since the start of December – I’ve been spending weekends looking out the dining room window. I don’t watch the clock and I’m careful not to stay in my room. I have a book to read and my laptop for when I feel like writing and I plug my phone into the speakers so that I can’t touch it. I listen to music. I drink coffee and barley tea.

It was hard at first. Empty time, and me with a bucket full of stresses to fill it up. But I’ve gotten better at the habit and I think it’s seeped in. It’s not just the weekends anymore. I don’t feel as much pressure to board the next plane and arrive somewhere. That’s not to say I’m not working – hell, I’m putting in more hours professionally and with writing than I have at any point prior – but i feel more relaxed while I’m doing it.

This is starting to sound like one of those new-agey posts. Stressless moments and mental peace aren’t options for everyone. When you’re staring at a spreadsheet of expenses trying to factor gas vs. food, you’re in combat with a world that won’t let go of you. Calm is a privilege. All that said, it’s a healthy step if you can afford to take it.

I look in the mirror in the mornings and don’t know myself. It’s all I ever wanted, but I had to let go of all those feverish loves to get here.

Novel Count: 14,971

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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Whoever’s calm and sensible is insane!

Rumi

Coffee Log, Day 64

Hi.

Coffee: Organic Bolivian Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand; Oh it’s great! It’s sunny, but not in that obnoxious way, more like the best sun in Winter, where you wake up expecting to shiver out of your pajamas but then you pull the curtains and feel your skin prick for the first time since early December. Highly recommend.

July 2013 had me in Petoskey, MI. About a century before that, Hemingway had it instead, and so I took the town at first not knowing the heritage, falling in love with the quaint downtown and brick community college (dreams of teaching there that are still just dreams) and a pretty girl who was working part time in a pie-shop with white flour in her hair and then a stormy pier on Lake Michigan with cold, cold water that talked to the weakest parts in me and asked me to jump. I didn’t jump – and if I had, it wouldn’t have hurt me. It was a ten foot drop – but I’d be lying if I said the thought of dying didn’t stalk the back of my mind. Only after the pier did I read up on the town and when I saw it was still haunted by Hemingway my fatal thoughts made sense.

There’s a parasitic force in Art that tells you to suffer. Too many idols took the easy end of a double-barrel like Hemingway. I believed for a while that happiness meant bad writing and I have dear friends who’ve bought the same cheap story. I don’t know where the source is, if it’s something about the personality prone to artists or something in a culture that likes to vicariously suffer, but it’s a real phenomenon. Thankfully, I’ve been enough of a failure at committing myself to the downward spiral that I’ve aged and grown and worked and matured and now I’ve come to realize that the real ingredients to good art are consistency, composure, a little cynicism, and – yes – happiness. To any fellow artist reading this, I encourage you to spit out the line the world’s been trying to feed you and find something grittier, harder, more long-lasting to chew.

July 2013 had me in Petoskey. I was brokenhearted and desperate. From beyond a coward’s grave, Hemingway bobbed in the cold Michigan water. I don’t know why I turned around but I’m glad I did. He can have the hell that waits for him. I’m happy to live longer and find the more elusive path to health and good art.

Currently Reading:
The Pardoner’s Tale, by John Wain

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“You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

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