Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 88

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I was at a red table in a kitchen drinking fizzy water. This was the early days of the Coffee Log. I was in a borrowed apartment, working on a borrowed laptop, writing like I’d borrowed time. I wanted to be done. I wanted that satisfaction of having accomplished something. I didn’t want the lead up, the struggle, the in-between. I took my daily quote off the water bottle because it was convenient. Look back far enough and you might find the day I’m talking about.

Tonight, I’m writing at my own desk that came with me from old days when I was living at home. Once, it belonged to my grandmother. She lived in our annex. She put her TV on it. I’d sit on the couch in her annex and watch NASCAR with her. Or, at nights, whenever it was on, my mom would come back and we’d all watch Diagnosis Murder. I thought Dick Van Dyke was hilarious. Anyway, when she passed, the desk went to no-one, the room had a sanctity, then the sanctity was gone and it went to my mother, then I fell on bad times for a few years and moved home and since then it’s been with me. It’s cheap, blonde, white legs, but it’s got a long heritage. Or at least, I think that’s how it happened. My memory’s fuzzy. I might be mixing up it up with another desk. But what’s important is that it’s mine.

It’s hard to get away from yourself. You trade spaces like passing notes in class but somehow the notes always end up back with you.

Tonight, I’m drinking another fizzy water.

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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Back of a Mandarin Orange Sparkling Spring Water, Trader Joe’s Brand

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 64

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro, Trader Joe’s Brand

I spent a lot of today thinking about ‘tense.’

Most of my coffee logs are a mix of past and future, rarely present. That makes sense: I’m either talking about something that happened or making predictions about the consequences. The present is always me sitting at my computer slapping words out. You can only describe that so many times.

Most of my fiction, on the other hand, ends up in present. There’s some immaturity in that, I think. Fear of ‘telling the story,’ commanding authorship. I pass the buck and put the reader in the moment so I don’t have to describe it. Not a single one of my favorite books is written this way.

Here’s something else that’s present tense: music; by extension, lots of poetry; cinema; narrative video games. Whether you’re an actor or an observer to the story, the story happens now. But when you think about the kind of presence in a movie vs. the presence in a pop song I think you start getting to a distinction.

‘Movies’ are cinematically present – basically, the audience is stripped of their own perspective and transmitted into the film. You are less an agent and more an eyeball. What happens, happens immediately, you’re just along for the ride. But this isn’t a story being told to you, like a past-tense novel, rather one you’re witnessing. Fly on the wall.

The other kind of present – which you see in lyrics like “looking through my eyes; If perhaps you feel I woke up with you, just smile” – is more personal. It involves the audience as an agent. It muddies perspectives, pulling a bit of 2nd into 1st. You’re responsible to this story – you’re recognized. It might not be about you, but it involves you. And it’s happening with you whether you like it or not. Some of the storytelling comes back, though it’s abstract rather than direct. Here’s a set of passions, experiences that you’re let in on intimately. You’re identified with the speaker.

The distinction is close to boiling down to 1st versus 3rd perspective but I think it’s still substantially different than that. While I don’t think you can have a kind of involved-present tense without it being told in the 1st person, I think you can have more or less involved presents in 3rd. The difference between: “The armies march to battle;” and “Armies march to battle; it’s what they do.” The second sentence involves you.

Anyway, I still think I’ve been writing fiction in present tense as a crutch, but as I try thinking about how to write in past it seems stale and maybe a little over-easy (and not in the good, gooey-egg sort of way). I don’t know. We’ll see.

As you might have guessed, I’m stuck on the book again. My second novel’s giving me a much harder time than the first, but maybe it’s always that way. I’m writing it in first and finding it overly cumbersome in some scenes. In others, it clicks. I feel like there’s a spool of twine inside my head. It’s all the bad habits I built writing since I was five. And now that I’m starting to form good habits, I’ve got to pull out all that twine to make room. It’s a long process. I’m going a little crazy. I don’t think I could write this book in past tense if I tried. I have tried. I’ll finish it one way or another.

Currently Reading: Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain

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Looking through my eyes; If perhaps you feel I woke up with you, just smile

School Days, Shoji Meguro (Persona Soundtrack)


Coffee Log, Day 188

Hi.

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

Slush life, you wake up too early, your bed’s not made, your breakfast sits on the counter long enough to make lunch; twigs in the window punctured by streetlights; toothpaste grin.

The hot water says ‘shower’ but you don’t want to. There are dirty knives in the sink. You turn up the radio. Your roommates are sleeping. You turn it back down. Bone-carved pyramid – your elbows, arms, head on the table next to speakers. ‘Passion Pit’ – Charlotte loves you, you only used to hear them in the city. ‘Sleepyhead’, a song… you planned it but feel lucky. You’re old enough to know all the work that goes into magic.

Strings like a spider’s web, the bad old times try to snare you. Every night, you wake up for the bathroom, only to settle in the arms of a different dream.

Currently Reading: Nothing! Still poking through some books, will settle soon.

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“Wake up when you want to/
’Cause no one’s really watching.” – Passion Pit, Carried Away

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Coffee Log, Day 169

Hi.

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

Blue Raspberry lollipop – it turned your whole mouth blue. Nephew of my coworker, the women show you off. Your mom was a drinker but you changed that. Your aunt talks tense phone-calls to laughter. Your friend – another coworker – has a strong southern accent.

How will you talk in 2035? You’ve got good parents, blond hair, blue eyes, but if you’re lucky – if we’re all lucky – those marks won’t have the same cache’ they do today. Will you spend fourth grade watching that one girl from the back of class, only to grab her hand in the lunch-line and kiss it, only to tell her that means you’re married, only to tell your parents and hear them laugh it off like ‘That’s what young men do.’ Will they teach you abstinence or responsible love?

In history books, white western men sin in the 100’s, fight in the 1000’s, conquer through the 21st century; they fight, kick, scream, spill blood until their hands are sticky enough to never drop the reigns. They don’t love, except voraciously; they don’t cry, except pathetically.

You walked behind the counter to get another lolly. I was there. I said: “High Five!” You were static smiles, so much innocent joy it got stuck on me. We smacked palms then you went running. I hope I gave you something. I spent twenty years making love to ill-gotten power, the next ten making up for that. I’m still making up for that. I hope you felt: brave; storied; vulnerable; open; powerless. I was born in the twilight of western white manhood. I’m fighting daily to make sure it dies. I hope you’ll never have to look at your naked limp body in the mirror and pick it down to honest sinews, take scalding showers to wash your grandfather’s sins. I hope you get to choose a good man, an honest man, an equitable man from the beginning.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“It is strange,’ he said at last. ‘I had longed to enter the world of men. Now I see it filled with sorrow, with cruelty and treachery, with those who would destroy all around them.’
‘Yet, enter it you must,’ Gwydion answered, ‘for it is a destiny laid on each of us. True, you have seen these things. But there are equal parts of love and joy.” – Lloyd Alexander, The Black Cauldron
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Coffee Log, Day 158

Hi.

Coffee: India Extra Bold Roast, Cafe Crema

I went to see the Wirligigs in Wilson. For those that don’t know, Vollis Simpson – a Wilson County native – spent his retirement creating massive metal whippets and doodads, colorful, wind-catching, made to sparkle and spin. He was a farmer by birth, soldier by necessity, and mechanic by trade. Before his death, people were buying his whirligigs and sticking them in art museums.

The park was flat ground with an amphitheater, not all that big. The Whirligigs sat around like old dogs surviving summer. Though it was cloudy, there wasn’t much wind and not much was spinning. I walked one full circle of the park, passing three old couples and two women holding hands. It was ghost-quiet. Around us, old brick buildings squatted in differing states of disrepair.

I left the park. I drove through the city, I wanted to see the place that inspired Simpson’s work. I saw a lot of dilapidated houses and chipped paint. There was a big bright BB&T building, but even it looked worn. A wooden train station was packed with people who didn’t have the time to think about appearances, slumped on old benches, struggling to find shade in the holey awning. Across the tracks, police courted a black neighborhood.

Wilson is the unspoken truth of America. She’s put the prom dress down, wiped the make-up away, closed the door on media suitors. She’s not the pastoral daisy of the Right or the verdant commune of the Left. She’s not a hard-working town, a bustling city, the techy suburbs. She’s a place that had it’s prime fifty years ago, one perfect dance under the starlight. Now it’s morning.

There was art everywhere in the City. Black murals on black churches; a series of photographs that caught glints of Civil Rights. According to the census, Wilson is an almost even split white and black. Driving around, all the white faces popped up around the suburbs, the city-center was all black. There were newer buildings in the suburbs, better roads, but it’s one claim to culture was the catch-all of a bloated Wal-Mart. In that way, Wilson is also America: white men and women cling to money whispering into it a faded, fifty-year dream; meanwhile, minorities wrestle with the deck stacked against them after all this time. We voted well in the 60’s, but no-one’s ever learned how to talk to each other. A fractured past, two trauma’s separated by train-tracks, forgotten in a world that sold it’s shipping overseas.

Simpson’s sculptures didn’t do much for me when I was standing under them, but they made more sense after my drive through the city. They were brilliant, vibrant, but sterile. Some moved limply, others simply wanted to move. As a young man, Simpson fought in WWII; he came home to watch the world change. In all substantial ways, America looks better – even in 2018 – than she had in the prime-time years of the 50’s. But the reckoning took a toll. Some of us – those lucky by birth, money, skin, whatever – live on the cutting edge future. The rest of America is Wilson – a beautiful post-depression, grappling with the grief of knowing what precious looks like but never knowing how to open her hands wide enough to hold it.

Tall wild metal, spinning and spinning.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“I guess it’ll just rust and fall down when I’m gone.” – Vollis Simpson, interview in the New York Times from 2010

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Coffee Log, Day 139

Hi.

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

In July, I start to wonder what winter will look like. In January, I think the same about July. I guess that means I’m restless. Ready to move or settle down – well, that changes by the day.

I got called to work a Durham Branch. I left in the morning feeling like I was going backwards. Durham’s got so many of my ghosts you’d think I was already buried there. I took 40 to 147 to 12B, one exit before the one I used to take when I went to see you, slicked on 12% romance; a habit of strong beers. Well, 12B put me in the same places – Downtown, Parker and Otis, the Bulls Stadium – until it ran me past them.

The branch was in a Northern corner of the city I hadn’t seen before. We passed the wealth. We passed the haunts where hipsters with fat wallets pretend their money’s thin. Trees gave up to grass lots, curved roads, places where you only cook with butter. Then all that vanished and there was a stretch that looked a lot like Cary. Two medical centers, neither associated with Duke. It was strange – blasphemous – and if I were a praying man I would have crossed myself.

I parked beside a Chipotle, a Chik Fil’A, everything vibrantly counted down into nickel rolls. I met two good people at the bank, then I met a few more. Our clients reminded me of my year teaching in the city – I could see PTA in all their eyes. With my new tie and banker’s credit, I felt like I was hiding something. I checked the old men and old women for hidden colleagues; I checked the young men and young women for former students.

October 31st, best mask, best mask. In the end I’m still free like public water; can’t stop flowing, but there’s a price paid in the bushes somewhere, tucked away.

“Hi, I’m Mr. Livesay, how can I help?”

At lunch, I walked around the lot. I found a nice strong tree. I stayed in its shade a while. When you look at me, Durham, tell me I’m not transparent – take me, love me, hold me, validate those years – but be honest with what you see.

Currently Reading: LaRose, Louise Erdrich

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“In one aspect, yes, I believe in ghosts, but we create them. We haunt ourselves.” – Laurie Halse Anderson, Wintergirls

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