Coffee Log, Day 269

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

There’s a certain kind of ‘growing up’ that involves realizing your own rebellion was a major perpetrator of the social ills it was railing against. This is a story about Rock & Roll.

I grew up listening to whatever. I was that normal kid, a sponge. Then I got bullied and then I got sad and then I found a few bands that a lot of kids find like Linkin Park and Tool. Later, I found modern punk at a Bomb the Music Industry! concert. Predictable shit.

Watch any interview with Kurt Cobain and then one of Nirvana’s videos back-to-back and you’ll start to see the problem. There was this dream that rock could change the world. Some myth of Woodstock where it sort of maybe did. By the nineties, smidges of social awareness produced bands who realized that promise had been bought out by greedy record execs and they made grungey, sour songs to complain about it. I came in a little later but that culture seemed like me: grungey, sour, complaining; elevated on a white horse above the world yet somehow still an underdog; perfectly removed.

But what’s the real story? Like any kind of power, no matter how self-marginalized and contrary, it’s about suppressing the minorities. A bunch of semi-affluent white boys wield guitars and wear their microphone crowns. You’ll talk about capitalism but won’t play shows in the black or brown towns. You’ll create a groupie culture that encourages young girls – often literal kids – to drink a lot and drug a lot until they’re too unconscious to protest the ‘privilege’ of backstage assaults. There was a credible article about Tool’s frontman luring 17 yr-olds a few months ago, but that got stuffed under the rug because hey, us white boys need our heroes, right?

This all seems obvious in 2018. Rocky and divided as it is, the world woke up two years ago. Battle lines are drawn. It’s a lot harder for monsters to hide. One of the necessary casualties of progress is a war against vestige emblems of the old, bad culture. So, Rock dies. Well, it was dying already – a new wave of commoditization that makes all the big bands more a voice for club drugs and t-shirt sales than any kind of supposed protest. But now the sword hits the hypocritical core – that Rock was a movement – progressive, inclusive, a force for change – and not just the more rebellious face of patriarchy.

In his last interview before he shot himself, Kurt Cobain talks about how he tried to write a song calling out the fucked-up culture of rape in rock-and-roll – ‘Polly’ – but no-one seemed to get it and everyone seemed to love it so he wrote another song called ‘Rape Me’ to try to get it through our thick skulls. The sequel didn’t sell too well.

Novel Count: 10,152 words

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

Polly wants a cracker
I think I should get off her first.

‘Polly’ – Nirvana


Coffee Log, Day 225

Hi.

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

Friday pushes hard brakes. The week smashes the median and things fly out: stress, joy, muddles, that clean feeling of starting something new. Now there’s just the curb and the smoking engine. It’s a busy road but no-one’s stopping. All the other cars have their own wrecks to meet.

I’m working tomorrow. I’m also driving home. I’m also, surely, going to be glued to the news, both at work and at home, to see the country put on it’s best dress as it swears in 30-40 more years of patriarchy. People will gnash teeth. Protesters will be arrested. By all indications, Kavanaugh still takes the post. Here’s a guy who spent his precious hours allotted to advocating for his competency and composure by mocking alcoholics and ranting about beer. If you cut the Capitol out of the image you could imagine him in a blue or red jersey, laughing at the tail-gate, waiting for the opposing team to leave the stands so he could smash a bottle in someone’s face. And yet we treat him like a victim, like someone owed the most prestigious legal position in the nation.

And of course he is owed. It’s his birthright: rich, straight, white man, the bleak dragon that devours us all.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“After luncheon the sun, conscious that it was Saturday, would blaze an hour longer in the zenith,…” – Marcel Proust

image_123923953 (4)

Coffee Log, Day 224

Hi.

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

I read a New York Times Magazine article about contemporary art. It started at a dinner table, two friends arguing about the show ‘Insecure.’ One friend liked it, the other didn’t. They both were black men.

The friend who liked it said there were no grounds to question ‘Insecure.’ It’s a TV series by and about black women in America – it’s too important as a social symbol to critique. They other guy – the author of the article – was wary. He described a world of bland dinner parties: no strife, no conflict, everyone agreeing to progressive standards, consuming media that was morally homogeneous. He said that wasn’t art.

But of course it’s complicated. Of course representation matters. There are studies coming out every day showing that kids who are given positive role models from their own race, culture, background, grow into healthier self-esteems. And there are still tremendous thumping gears churning night and day to keep the dark dream of white patriarchy vibrant, all the while actively draining color from whatever minority garden in which art or ideas might grow. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It is, in fact, ‘important’ that shows like ‘Insecure’ exist.

I met a guy in Japan who still lives there. He talked about America, about Wisconsin, about how everything was bleaker back home. He spoke fluent Japanese and knew how to party. He’d buy the seasonal chocolates at the corner store and ring the bell and clap three times at Buddhist shrines. He wasn’t Japanese but he wanted to be. I think something similar is going on with progressive art. You play an educated left-leaning American of whatever color one song by Kendrick Lamar, then one song by Young Dolph and nine times out of ten they’re picking Kendrick. Why? Because he’s able to sanitize a struggle so it’s palatable. Like Martin Luther King, Jr, he’s a great man with great words and zero blemishes, an idol, a god, in-human, unattainable, safe to aspire to because implicit in his image is the fact that you – 35, two jobs, disenfranchised by voter registration laws, behind on credit cards and paying half your income to rent, probably black but maybe even poor and white – will never get to life that life of freedom. Implicit in a blanket admiration for non-white art is the fact that these aren’t complicated, messy, people – these are fancy macaws and peacocks locked in carefully hidden cages, putting on a show for the upper class.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“This version of the culture wars casts Beyoncé as the goddess of empowerment who shan’t be blasphemed. She offers herself as both deity and politician, someone here to embody and correct.” – Wesley Morris, The Morality Wars, linked here

image_123923953 (3)

Coffee Log, Day 217

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s Brand

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted “It’s nice to see a conservative man fight for his honor and his family.” He was talking about Brett Kavanaugh. Around the same time, in response to Sen. Patrick Leahy questioning Kavanaugh on his arguably misogynistic comments in his High School yearbook, Kavanaugh defended himself by saying: “I busted my butt in academics…I finished one in the class…I played sports. I was captain of the varsity basketball team, I was wide receiver and defensive back on the football team…I did my service projects at the school which involved going to the soup kitchen downtown.” Effectively, he was arguing his good character as a shield against Ford’s allegations. Tellingly, his arguments reflected every pedestal of the perfect Patriarchal Male: smart; ambitious; well-educated; a sportsman; given to charity, but only in one-off increments, donations of free time.

I want to relate a different picture.

My whole life, I’ve struggled with the label of my Manhood. It was front and center, glaring, prominent. I was well-enough-to-do. I was smart, academically gifted. I had no talent in sports but made up for it in other extracurriculars. I won every award my schools could offer. I won some State awards, too. Early on, I was popular, later I was bullied for my successes, but even that bullying added to my mystique. I transferred districts in eighth grade. The prettiest girl in my new school came up to me and said “It’s cool that you stand out so much.”

I’ve talked a few times on here about the girls I kissed in Elementary. There were a few of them, always unwanted, but one girl, K, became my ‘girlfriend’ after, probably because she felt she had to. I remember hanging with her at the skating rink. She was with friends. I wanted to skate. She told me “Later,” I said “Now.” We skated a run, she hit me. It was hard enough to hurt, but that felt like license: I took her hand and held it for five minutes. Eventually she went away. We stopped sitting together in class. I couldn’t bring myself to talk to her. After that year, we didn’t speak again. When I asked my parents why she hit me, they said little girls have a strange way of showing affection. Teachers, friends, friends’ parents said the same. I didn’t tell anyone what happened after – that I took her hand and held it, half to stop her from punching me, half because I knew I could. Still, I’d seen love. I’d watch my mother cry when our old dog died, then again when she buried her father. I watched my dad get rosy when he came home and took my mom and I out to dinner. I’d seen love. Whatever me and K had, that wasn’t it.

I felt sick for a long time. I started running as far as I could go in the opposite direction. For six years through High School into the beginning of college, I called myself celibate. For even longer, a tee-totaler. It was it’s own form of arrogance, running away from myself instead of fixing the man who knew he could take anything he wanted. Eventually, I lived with a woman, got possessive, fell in love, broke up, and tried to reckon with my Manhood for the first time in a long time.

Being a Man in America is a terrific line-dance: check the footwork, perform the moves, take the girl. People like Trump, like Kavanaugh, have built long careers out of flashy performances. Trump Jr. said Kavanaugh is a man who protects his family. What he means is an animal bearing teeth for territory. That nuclear bubble, that man-and-woman-and-kids, that wife who might be a career woman in 2018 but who still goes home and does the laundry, all of this is currency paid to Men who can perform well, who know the moves, who dance so sumptuously that society forgives them the women whose lives they snuff at 15, the girls they tried to strangle.

Fuck that forever.

I don’t have an answer for what a Man should be. I think about it often, spend hours with my own damn face in the mirror. But America’s vision is wrong, that much I’m clear about. It needs to change. Between the Women’s March and #MeToo, it looks like it will. As usual, we place the burden on women, force them to fight the fight we all should be fighting. I can’t know what Ford and others are going through, can’t in good conscience say I’m a perfect ally, but for everyone’s sake – men, women, my own soul – I can say my blood is there, my thoughts are trying, I’ll vote better, live scrutinously, atone humbly, and teach whatever son I may someday have to hold a different sense of ‘Manhood.’

Until then, I’ll call bullshit when I see it: Kavanaugh, go to hell.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith; Cherry, Nico Walker

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“However, once he was selected and it seemed like he was popular and that it wasn’t a sure vote, I was calculating daily the risk benefit for me of coming forward and wondering whether I would just be jumping in front of a train that was headed to where it was headed, to where it was headed anyway, and that I would just be personally annihilated.” – Christine Blasey Ford

IMG_1694

Coffee Log, Day 211

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee

6:13 am: I watched a man walk his two dogs in the almost-morning. He went around the gazebo, stopped to let the dog sniff the bridge. I’d just gotten up. I was still in my boxers. I watched from the kitchen window. It occurred to me later that he might have been watching me, too.

12:35 pm: In the bank’s parking lot, on my lunch break, I watched a tiny silver spider attempt a web from the closest tree to my driver’s side mirror. She had six long legs with two smaller. She kept falling off the mirror then twisting back up. Vexed, I guess, she’d turn circles on my pearl-white car.  I’d try to laugh but my mouth got stuck on peanut butter. Ms. Spider was good company.

3:49 pm: All the news blows up about Kavanaugh’s accuser. She never wanted the spotlight so I won’t name her. There’s different theories as to why she must be mis-remembering: the long time it took her to come forward; the possibility that she was almost-raped by a different man; Kavanaugh’s perfect pearly-white smile. I heard an interview with a good friend of hers who said the woman was choked by the first news of Kavanaugh’s nomination. I couldn’t help but think that Kavanaugh has a great grip, those same ten fingers having strangled a woman for 36 years.

5:57 pm: I bought dinner from a Chinese diner. I tipped a dollar. I ordered to go. The restaurant was smoky and busy, a non-stop phone. The two chefs were men but a woman and her 13-yr-old son staffed the counter. In between orders, she helped him with his homework. In between assignments, he filled a couple notebook pages with his own art. I got thinking: what will this kid’s hands hold? A dog leash? A gavel? Some girl’s throat?

Before I left, his mom had a long conversation with another customer. Friends, laughing. The boy was back to art. Everyone in the building seemed stressed and honest and good and warm. I want to believe the diner-woman’s slowly managing to spin a perfect web.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“In joined hands there is still some token of hope, in the clinched fist none.” – Victor Hugo

IMG_1682

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

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

“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
IMG_1511

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

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the BorderRAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

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

IMG_1483