Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 93

Hi.

Coffee: House Blend, Ithaca Coffee; these beans traveled 600 miles in a brown bag to get to my grinder; they tasted like the trip; in color, the coffee came out nearly clear like a good light roast, but when you taste it there’s a heft; I thought about craft beer – IPA’s, all the rage, something you call ‘light’ but bites you when you dig in, a snake, a cat, a barn mouse scared out of its wits; but like those little critters, once you get past the first shock of the coffee, it opens up to you; maybe you’ll never quite understand each other, but you know you’re friends; there’s love there; there’s something warm; if you like bitter sweets, long winters, or old pairs of gardening gloves, this coffee is for you; a gift from H, an old friend; thanks for the coffee.

The best thing to remember on Memorial Day is that you are responsible for the dead soldiers being memorialized. Wow, that was morbid, huh?

But I’ve got to drive it home because we forget it so easily these days with our foreign wars and volunteer army – every man and woman that dies for your country dies at your command. You might not agree with what they’re fighting for. The public swell might have demanded bloodshed you think unconscionable. But as long as you share in that public, you’re a part of it, and no amount of noble, right-headed protest takes away the responsibility for the act.

So think about that a little bit. Think about the death. Not as noble or ignoble, but as sad. And as something in your control. Then go out and vote so less soldiers die, and for less murky reasons.

Currently Reading: NOTHING! will pick a new book soon

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All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.

John Steinbeck

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 87

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

I read part of an article about Camille Billops, an artist. I only read part because it’s been that kind of day – partial. I’m don’t know if I’ll ever finish it, but what I read left an impression.

Camille Billops was a prominent artist who started her work in the 60’s. She created and advocated for black art through and beyond the civil rights movement. But the point of the article was: at the cusp of her career, she took her four-year-old daughter to a Children’s Home and left her there.

There’s no way to know what someone else is thinking, even if they tell you. We hardly understand ourselves and rarely vocalize the parts we do. But at least publicly, Billops’s choice to give up her daughter was a drive for independence, a rejection of the mandate for motherhood that trapped and continues to trap women, and a choice to give up family in order to freely pursue her art.

It’s the last one that gets me.

I think a lot about balance – work-life, freedom-responsibility, healthy eating-loving chocolate – and in particular about the balance between everything else and art. Because the split really is that big, isn’t it? When you’re in the act of creating something, that’s all you’re doing. It’s all of you – all your life, love, blood and energy. You take people and places that are vividly real and send them through the woodchipper. If your art is going to have power, you have to feed it everything precious in your life for fuel. Billops fed it her daughter. Jury’s out what sorts of things I’m burning for fuel.

I was at the Nasher a few years ago seeing an exhibit on Southern artists. There was a piece, a vivid portrait, abstracted. My friend and guide told me the artist had a sad story. He’d gotten so caught up in his art that he’d withdrawn from his family, gotten depressive, and driven his loved ones away. My friend thought that was awful. I did too, but it made a lot of sense to me.

But maybe it’s all a trick. Maybe that reclusive tendency to sacrifice your friends and family to some myth of ‘genius’ has darker motives. You’ve got to have something in the first place in order to give it up. And if you can give up damn near everything and still survive, that implies you’re living with a modicum of success or comfort backing you. The artistic rejection of the world is always an act of privilege. It’s something that says: “I don’t need you.” You might climb the mountain, but you do so without making room at the summit for anyone else, and with some sense of security that you’ll make it there. The ‘starving artist’ is a myth. No-one has time to both starve and make art.

Anyway, that was all a long and rambling way to say that art and ethics sometimes collide and that’s not easy. Today was also a rambling day.

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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In the nearly 60 years since Camille Billops made the decision to give up her daughter, she has become an internationally recognized artist and filmmaker.

Sasha Bonet, The Artist Who Gave Up Her Daughter, published in Topic Magazine

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 21

Hi.

Coffee: Maxwell House Drip, Office Coffee

Chloe Cooper Jones wrote an article for The Verge chronicling the post-fame life of Ramsey Orta. Ramsey Orta was briefly famous in 2014, though not for the type of things most people get famous over. He was the man who filmed a cop choking Eric Garner to death in New York City.

I don’t want to spend too much time summarizing Jones’s article – mostly because she tells Orta’s story better than I can – but to give a quick run-down, Orta was trailed by cops, harassed, and eventually arrested on maybe-propped-up-but-definitely-exagerrated gun charges after coming forward with the film. He’s still in prison. He’s got anxiety. He’s got a checkered past – he once held a knife to a kid’s throat in junior high – and he admits it. At prison, they tried feeding him rat poison. He didn’t eat it. Now they destroy any food his family sends him so that he has to eat what they serve.

Here’s what I want to talk about: democracy. On paper, we live in a country that is by and for the people. We have a right to vote, a right to elect. We can choose whether or not to exercise that right, but regardless of our choice, we are all beholden to the (popular) outcome. Of course, nothing’s perfect, and some peoples’ voices don’t sound quite as loud as others – there’s whole textbooks full of laws to ensure we have uneven representation. But still, a vote’s a vote, and your vote does have power. This is what we, as a country, have voted for: feeding a man rat poison for trying to save his friend.

There was some commotion across the street from the bank today. Someone reported gunshots, someone else said there was an accident. On the way to lunch, I saw three cop cars and one ambulance by a bus stop. The cops were talking to a black man. Another black man was watching some distance away. I tried to get a good read on the situation – no guns were out, no one was dead or dying. I decided not to stop. When I passed back the same way after lunch, the cops were still out there with the black man. He was wearing red. He had a baseball cap.

I didn’t do anything. My thought was – this seems safe; no-one’s on the ground; everything’s fine. And maybe it was. Or, maybe they’ll arrest him for whatever reason – good or bad – and cart him off to a cell where they stomp on his ramen and put rat pellets in his meatloaf. Who knows?

The point is, I’m responsible. Good or bad, freedom or tyranny, you and I are responsible. Every man or woman that’s beaten, abused, or murdered by government action is blood on your hands. In very limited cases, that blood might be justified. But look in the eyes of Ramsey Orta and tell me – are you sure? Are you sure? Are you sure?

Novel Count: 30,740

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami; FINISHED! 

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Paranoia and fear form their own prison, one Orta is likely to live in for the rest of his life.
Do you wish you could go back and do it differently? Not take the video?
I’d waited a year, known him a year, before I asked this question. He looks away from me and lowers his head.
Finally he says, “What does it matter?”

Chloe Cooper Jones, Fearing for His Life, published March 13th 2019 on The Verge


Coffee Log, Day 334

Hi.

Coffee: Locomotive Blend, PennyCup Coffee

MLK died so you and I could have a Monday holiday doing nothing much but hanging around the house in sweatpants. That’s not the narrative he or his shooter was trying to tell, but I’ll bet good money it’s the one most of us are living today.

I don’t think that’s entirely a bad thing. There are many ways to honor someone.

I cooked a good dinner. I put in so much basil that my fingers still stink like a July garden. And I read a book and wrote a little, drank cheap whiskey, watched this one lady who always walks her dog cross the bridge a few times, dog crossing behind. A simple, pleasant day.

It’s easy to become bankrupt of your own responsibilities. There are so many problems to solve – personal problems, national problems, world problems – that you declare an ineptitude. You pull the blankets over your head and stop watching anything but what’s in front of you.

The flip side of that is the burn out. I knew this woman who worked herself to a fury. She was a teacher. In her spare time, she participated in every march for justice that popped up in the triangle. Eventually, it all caught up with her. She quit her job and now she has a small garden in the back of a small house she shares with a French bulldog and the love of her life. She doesn’t fight too much anymore, but who could blame her? You only have so much sweat to spill until you shrivel up.

I try to pick good battles. Even when I pick them, though, I end up feeling like I haven’t done enough. At this very moment, there are still kids locked in bright hot cages on the border. In fact, there was just an article saying the numbers of minors who were separated from their families was vastly underestimated last year. What I mean is: we still live in sin. Only it’s not god or the devil that guides us to it, just human hands that might be our neighbors, or might be our own. We’re all equally responsible.

Then again, there’s nothing wrong with cutting up basil and watching it burn. There’s nothing wrong with having whiskey on a day off. In fact, those simple things are what all the fights are for – a right to live peacefully and with minor comforts.

So I don’t know if I did a good job celebrating the legacy of King. He’s a powerful symbol and was an even more powerful human voice. But I’d like to think that by writing this, at least, I can share a bit of what peace is about. That being good starts with holding two tight threads: one tied to the necks of everyone suffering; the other on a knot of garlic, or a loaf of wheat bread.

Novel Count: 17,508

Currently Reading: Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

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We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.

Martin Luther King, Jr.


Coffee Log, Day 308

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; I asked the barista if she’d had a nice holiday; her eyes got real narrow and she looked like she was about to spit in my drink; eventually, when the coffee came, it was double-cupped; ‘we’re out of sleeves,’ she says; I imagine it took great restraint for her not to burn me for the affront of holiday small-talk. Oh, and the coffee was alright.

And it’s another Wednesday. Christmas is over, the year’s winding down. I’ve still got half my life packed in the backpack I’d taken on the trip to my family. My room feels like a hostel. Holiday vagabonds.

The bank isn’t busy today. No-one wants to acknowledge that life is getting back on track. There’s so many fires to put out, ones you’ve been tossing small glasses of water over for the back half of the year, too busy partying to plan, but now half the forest is coming down. The government is a quarter closed. Two Guatemalan children died this week in US custody along the border. The world won’t wait for you to finish putting away your merriment. We’ve all got something to be responsible for in 2019.

I saw two cats this morning. One was licking the other, getting at the dirt and ticks. I almost stopped to pet them but they seemed so focused on the moment that I didn’t want to intrude. I pulled out of the parking lot feeling a little more committed than before.

Novel Count: 6,375

Currently Reading: Nothing! Will pick a new book after the holidays.

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Be at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let every new year find you a better man.

Benjamin Franklin


Coffee Log, Day 283

Hi.

Coffee: French Roast, Trader Joe’s brand

The world came apart like it was raining at about 10:30 this morning. It had rained, of course, overnight, but that rain was tame in comparison.

I was out walking. Mr. Cobwebs (the cat) was following me. The sky was opal. The grass was new-money green. When I crossed the bridge, crossed the basketball court, and got up to the lot around the apartment office, things were coming undone. 10:30 brought this great white wind out of the clouds and it got it’s jaws on everything. The ground swelled, my shirt went up, and she started biting all the trees. It was the biting that did it: all the great old oaks and maples were so shaken they couldn’t hold on to their leaves. Browns and golds and oranges catapult down like blizzard balls. For five straight minutes, all of us were swatting crumply old leaves.

I feel guilty sometimes when I’m loving where I live. I don’t always love it. But then there’s a windstorm and I’m raptured. It’s the best things that make you most aware of the worst things you’re responsible for.

A portion of every one of my paychecks goes to fund a bit of horror. It pays the clerk who stamps the order to deport this that and whoever on scratched together grounds (as they are currently perpetrating with a Mr. Samuel Oliver Bruno of Durham, NC, who has lived in the US for 22 years and is now awaiting deportation in Texas). It pays the public servant who’s told to serve the public by standing at the back of the Mexican border with a loaded weapon, or maybe firing teargas in the eyes of El Salvadorians. It clutters the coffers of this judge, that judge, zealous senators, some of whom are trying honestly to produce good judgment, however misguided, and others who are trying dishonestly to produce skewed judgment, guided quite narrowly by money or power or rumors of an afterlife that only loves you if you’re white and male. Really, those portions of my paycheck are a constant windstorm, and though I’m always voting, I can only keep on eye on a portion of the positions of the leaves.

All of that is to say: life is pretty. It’s worth living. But when you have the wind whipping you everywhere at once, freely filling your lungs, it’s hard to have your heart beat healthy with the knowing that you’re responsible – like it or not – for a cavalcade of forces keeping others locked up.

Novel Count: 14,915 words

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

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Never forget:
we walk on hell,
gazing at flowers.

Kobayashi Issa


Coffee Log, Day 245

Hi.

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

It’s been a week of traffic. I’m driving to a branch in RTP. Maps says 25 minutes but the trip always takes longer. I was five minutes late the first day, five minutes late the second, etc. I even turned the clock back on departure but I was late all the same.

I like it though.

Five years ago I was a teacher. I got the job in Durham then had a bad break-up. I’d been living there, the break-up broke that up. I moved home for awhile. The commute was Burlington to Durham, 45min one way. I left early and stopped for coffee at a truck stop in Haw River each day. I got to see the sun rise. On three separate occasions, I passed a burning semi pulled over in the pre-dawn. It got to be an omen. I didn’t like the commute so much back then.

But I’ve come to appreciate the in-between. Nothing can phase you on the road. No goals, no expectations. You’re stuck. It’s lovely. It may feel like you’re trapped, but really the whole world is on hold for you. What’s that? There’s dishes needing doing? Later! And work? Bumper-to-bumper says I’ll be a few minutes late. And when I get there I’ll unpack the car of all your things – the clothes, the letters, the mattress pad you used to sleep on, hand them off one at a time in your driveway, and watch you take the shortcut through the garden on a cloudy day to deposit yourself back in comfortable places, turn the key, wave from the window, and lovingly say ‘bye’ forever – but for now, the doors are locked and I’m moving, only looking left and right and never too far in the future.

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

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“A sip of wine, a cigarette,
And then it’s time to go.
I tidied up the kitchenette;
I tuned the old banjo.
I’m wanted at the traffic-jam.
They’re saving me a seat.” – Leonard Cohen

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