Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 64


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, Year 2, Day 34


Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

When I lay awake in bed past bedtime in the mid-nineties – or lay down in my parents’ shower to think while the water washed over me – I found pictures of the future. Like opening a time capsule in reverse: there I was, walking to work at a non-descript high-rise, eating white-bun hotdogs on a city streetcorner, polishing my black mustache (I never saw myself with a full beard), coming home to a house full of cats. Not a damn one of those dreams came true. The time capsule – it turns out – was a fraud.

Well, I guess I could grow the mustache if I wanted, but we all know that’s a bad look.

What I’m trying to say is: everyone imagines a future that’s never real. My idea of what 2019 would look like was informed by the art and entertainment of the late 90’s. Business would be oppressive, cities would be weary, tech would be neon green. I imagined the congested cityscapes from Cowboy Bebop and the after-work chatter of Friends or Becker. There was an acceptance that the world as a whole would be functioning well enough so that your only real effort – your real despairs – would be personal. Instead, we live in a remarkably easy environment where anything you’d ever want can be ordered to your door. The streets are open and clean. Meanwhile, the whole globe burns down.

I remember getting into avant-garde rock in the mid 2000’s. Me and my friend Z would spend whole summers in high school driving back and forth to record stores in Chapel Hill. It felt like I was on the verge of something – a secret from tomorrow, the next big thing. Flash forward fifteen years and the college radios are playing these old sounds, old chords, crooning vocals, a real nostalgic anguish for sounds you used to hear in the late 50’s. ‘Tomorrow’ turned out to be fond feelings for yesterday. But maybe that’s just how it’s always been.

Novel Count: 34,368

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

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Disappear like I come in your world
Five is a number that I dream about
It looks like it could’ve been time
But that is a word that I dream about

Broken Social Scene, Hotel

Coffee Log, Day 259


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

It’s light in the mornings after the roll-back of daylight savings. I’m sitting here with the curtains open. It’s been a busy morning, it’ll be a busy day. Manageable, though.

A North Carolina autumn is a fickle thing. I’ve been working in Apex this week. That town’s about ten miles west of Cary but over there the leaves are vanishing in fits of red. Outside my window, it’s mostly green.

Every year, I tell myself I’ll chase the seasons a little more. I’d like to be the kind of person that takes a trip to the mountains just to watch the world change. Instead, while fall drives by in it’s pick-up truck with new rims and a fresh paint job, hollering at the cities and chasing down the summer birds, I’m stuck in my apartment with the blinds drawn and some music going thinking about a few separate seasons from now, what I’ll be doing and how I’ll get there.

Ambition is a bad flu – unavoidable until you get over it.

Novel Count: 6,376 words

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

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“At the age of six I wanted to be a cook. At seven I wanted to be Napoleon. And my ambition has been growing steadily ever since.” – Salvador Dali