Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 142


Coffee: Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I’m constantly having to tighten the screws on my table legs. Maybe that’s because I’m always pressing down on it. I type and eat and drink and read at this table. Like I said – weights of every day, always pressing down.

Sometimes, the table gets so wobbly I think I’m on a boat. Greece – a complicated Aegean, with her pink sunsets and ferocious storms. She rocks you one morning then drives you headlong into Scylla the next. It was nine years ago, I was studying abroad, living on a yacht.

When I tighten the washers, I do it without looking. I reach under and anything could be there. So far, the worst I’ve gotten is an old cobweb asking to marry me, forcing itself on my finger, wedding ring. But the point is, anything could be under, like the time I was three years old and found a black spider in my parents’ kitchen, followed it on all fours as it danced as well as four ballerinas, then, when I got bored of watching, fitted the whole black body in my hand and transferred it to my mouth. What I’m saying is, I ate it. So now, when I’m tightening screws, I get a little nervous, and start thinking about the next meal.

My table’s been adjusted – success! It’ll stay fixed and upright at least this evening, though there’s no telling what wonky wobbles I’ll find tomorrow.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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My spelling is Wobbly. It’s good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.

A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 106


Coffee: Light Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand; my friend Z is staying at our apartment for a few days; he bought some coffee because he’d been using mine; I told him he’s always welcome to share because if you can’t share coffee, you can’t share much of anything; still, he bought it, so we shared this new coffee instead; thin like the first sheets of ice in winter; fills up your mouth and then your throat, hangs around in there, warming you up

Sometimes it’s hard to write the Coffee Log. 10:40pm, well past my bed-time on a work night, I’m only now sitting down to type this out. It’s been hard to write the Coffee Log today.

But don’t get the wrong assumptions – nothing’s happened, no tragedies. It was a fine day. A quite morning, friendly afternoon. And maybe that explains it – why it’s been so hard to get my fingers moving on the keyboard – because good, easy things are the toughest to write about. A cream-colored wallpaper, perfectly harmless, hard to pick apart with words.

It’s been five days now that I’ve been on an antidepressant. Welbutrin, specifically. That’s not enough time for the drug to do much (the psychiatrist said it takes at least three weeks) but you can’t help feeling hopeful when you make a change. I spent a couple hours cleaning all the clutter from my room, a couple more sitting by the window thinking about my thinking and wondering if it had changed. Mostly, I wanted to feel something other than that weekend pressure, the free-time skunk of not knowing what to do with myself that’s had me wrapped up for the past few months. Unfortunately, the feeling was still there.

I haven’t been writing much. On weekdays, I can ignore it, because I’m so caught up in my day-job, but as soon as Friday shakes itself over into six a.m. Saturday, I’m feeling lost and fed up when the words won’t come. They say you are only able to write yourself out of a writer’s block, but I’ve been writing, and I think this block is something else.

I spent twenty-nine years seeing myself as an author. In my mind, that meant getting away. A 1930’s expat drowning lonely in France, or someone caught in the in-between spots of cafes and train stations, never settled down. But to live that life you have to be willing to give up something, or have nothing in the first place to give. I work a nine-to-five job to make sure no-one I know has to pay for me, and to sometimes be able to pay for them. I want my bases covered. The ‘author’ in my head has never been me.

How do you write about a life you don’t love? That’s the kind of life most people are living. Low, mundane. I can’t speak for the desperate because I’ve never been it. I can’t speak for the wildly successful either. But everyday I talk to people with decent-paying jobs and lists of problems they’re just-able to cover, loving little of the middling moments, finding most of their joy in five-to-ten minutes of after-work wine sipping. We get along handsomely. It’s easy to see ourselves in each other.

I grew up in a small town that wasn’t small enough to be communal, but wasn’t big enough for opportunities. I moved a few towns over to a place with more money but the same in-the-middle-of-everything scenes. All my art is drawn here, simple, fine things with no color. Something that’s hard to hate but just as hard to love.

The weekend’s almost over. It’s 11:00 pm now. Tomorrow, I’ll jump the work-rhythms until I get to go home. At home, I’ll tidy up, cook dinner, maybe read a book. No time to think about all the books I’m not writing. Those thoughts can wait until the weekend.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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I like to prowl ordinary places
and taste the people-
from a distance.

Charles Bukowski

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 24


Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

I have this skin condition called vitiligo. It means I’ve lost the pigment in patches along my face and arms. I forget about it mostly. Even in the healthy spots, my skin is the color of a peeled banana, so what’s a little more white to do to me? But I went walking today for a couple hours and now I’m cherry soda.

Skin damage notwithstanding, it was a nice walk.

I was thinking about stories. What’s the first story you remember someone telling you? Was it from the family? Did Grandma Lutz have a secret drinking habit? Was Grandpa Dan a lieutenant in the Second World War? Instead, it might have been fiction. Something cooked up.

I’ve got this vivid memory of sitting awake some afternoons in my crib reading a baby book about a woman’s lost britches. It was done up in whites and oranges. It was hardly real. And a little later in life, the things that really stuck to me are the fantastic – Llyod Alexander’s Black Cauldron books. The first few things I tried to write were fantastic. I wrote a poem about greek gods embodied in the clouds. I wrote a breezy novella about a man with a sword. All of this was before middle school. Since Middle, only realist words come out.

A few days ago, I posted something about the ‘ordinary’ being the most compelling thing to capture in writing. I stick by that. But I also think the ‘ordinary’ might only appear when you pit it against the extraordinary.

There’s this video game that’s the fourth in it’s series called ‘Persona 4.’ I might have talked about it on here before. It’s a long, winding RPG. The protagonists have supernatural powers and fight a supernatural threat. But they all live in a small Japanese town in the 2000’s. In fact, half the game (no exaggeration) is spent studying for math exams or going to soccer practice, idling rainy days at the local ramen shop, watching TV with your cousin. Shadows and monsters lurk in every corner, but they’re there to put a spotlight on ordinary life. You stay at home and build a plastic model, knowing that the whole world could come down around you tomorrow. Kind of Sisyphus, when you think about it. Damn if that game didn’t stick to me.

So I have to ask myself: can I come back? Can I re-capture that magic? I’ve been stripping stories down, taking out the pigment. Is there some pixie dust around with which to put it back?

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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Child, child, do you not see? For each of us comes a time when we must be more than what we are.

Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 23


Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand; I think these beans have it in for me. On the second cup, I got the jitters. On the third, I was queasy. I spent the whole day not wanting to eat anything. My gut evacuated – bad news, best to get out of dodge. That said, the taste was fine.

I’m sitting ankle-deep in writer’s block. Or – I know what to write next, I just don’t feel like writing it. Instead, I’ll talk about something that bothers me:

Every other book I read feels artificial.

I won a copy of “The Sense of an Ending” by Julian Barnes at an open mic. This was months ago, I just got around to reading it. Before I get any further, I should say I’m only a quarter in. But that quarter left a sour taste in my mouth.

For those that don’t know, “The Sense of an Ending” won the Man Booker. Etc, etc. The story so far follows a group of friends through a private high school. They’re all eclectic, aggressively so. The writing takes simple scenes and puts a lot of wax on them. Barnes is always going on about something. It’s meticulous, literary, sort of impressive.

To me, it stinks. What truth is there in a bunch of prep kids talking philosophy and sneering at their teachers? Why are so many writers obsessed with asserting some kind of carefully constructed world-view?

Today, I did nothing. I sat and moped. I wanted to write but couldn’t. No-one was around. I played video games. I got groceries. When it was time to exercise, I drank two beers instead. There’s no greater meaning in any of that – just a drudgery. But damn if it didn’t feel inescapably real.

My favorite passage of one of my favorite books spends a long describing the inside of a Denny’s. It’s an ordinary Denny’s. It’s an ordinary night. The protagonist sits inside that ordinariness. And that’s it – no big revelations. What more do you need? The truth is this: ordinary life is the most strange, beautiful, sad, gripping, dangerous thing of all.

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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The music playing at low volume is “Go Away Little Girl” by Percy Faith and His Orchestra. No one is listening, of course. Many different kinds of people are taking meals and drinking coffee in this late-night Denny’s, but she is the only female there alone. She raises her face from her book now and then to glance at her watch, but she seems dissatisfied with the slow passage of time. Not that she appears to be waiting for anyone: she doesn’t look around the restaurant or train her eyes on the front door. She just keeps reading her book, lighting an occasional cigarette, mechanically tipping back her coffee cup, and hoping for the time to pass a little faster. Needless to say, dawn will not be here for hours.

After Dark, Haruki Murakami