Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 215

Hi.

Coffee: Americano, Caribou Coffee; I bought a slice of lemon bread with it; sunny as the last day of summer; the coffee was good, but it gave me a stomach ache

I went to a smoothie shop selling dark chocolate blended with blueberries, dates and bananas. Decadent. That’s not a word you can use without sounding like an asshole, but in this case it’s the best fit for the experience. The shop looked like an Apple store. Everyone else was wearing earbuds and athleisure.

I’ve been thinking about ‘whiteness.’ I come from a culture that cut itself from sea water, salt blocks, tart and fragile. It has no bones. It’s not English, not Italian, not even ‘American.’ Four hundred years ago, my ancestors saw themselves in the pages of ancient empires. They walked the bleached marble columns of Rome. They bought ships and blasted themselves on open waters. They brought swords and axes to carve and conquer different land.

That’s the thing: the history of ‘whiteness’ is in an admiration for imperialism. It’s not based in an organic community, not a long-term culture that binds itself to land, to rituals, to shared songs. It’s too reclusive for that, sustained on separation. It’s alchemy. It’s fool’s gold. And like all good alchemy, it’s bound by blood.

The ancient Greeks understood Achilles to be a part of themselves. They saw the might and beauty of a man unbound by culture and law. But they also saw how fearful was that life, and so they celebrated instead their customs, language, ritual sacrifices, a pantheon of Gods. But 400 years ago on a re-reading, my ancestors took Achilles to mean the will to power. They salivated at the lines where he declares himself free to feast on the flesh of his opponents. Power is everything. So ‘White’ men defined a kind of capitalism, a system of goods and demands, something to run the ships back and forth across the oceans, a raison d’etre, no celebration, not good enough just to survive, but the bloody sustenance of seeing themselves as ‘more than,’ ‘better,’ as living gods.

How do you destroy yourself? You rip the heart out of someone else’s humanity. You light fires to everything that stands against you. You enslave black families in Africa, brown-skinned Native Americans, anything that doesn’t look like you. Because you know you’re fragile, that you lost your culture, your community, cut out your own bones. When you look in the mirror, you can’t stand to see yourself as a sand castle. You must be white marble, flawless, a writhing God.

It does no good not to acknowledge it, my inherited, persistent sin. It does no good to pretend I’m somehow better because I’m aware of it. All that’s left is effort, and the ability to give it to a better future.

Life is made up of marble and mud.

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 207

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

There was a lizard in the office. It had a fat gut and a long tail. I saw it in the lobby, then it ran to the break room. I tried to chase it. I wanted to take it outside. In the end, my coworker caught the lizard. She told me she had a lot of them at her house so she was a pro. She took a tray for utensils and tipped it over. She caught it, then held him in with a stack of paper plates. I was disappointed. I’d wanted to catch the lizard myself.

I found a frog on the footpath outside my apartment. She was scrunched up like a vanilla wafer and staying still. She saw me. I knelt down. I was worried someone might step on her, but I was also worried I’d give her a different death if I got her too scared. Her back was different colors, browns and golds. She was autumn come up from the river, wheat fields. In the end, I left the frog but snapped her picture. I walked away. I hope she’s okay.

Due to climate change, the earth is rapidly losing its amphibians. Jury’s still out on reptiles. I remember my mother talking about how much she’d be missing all the polar bears, or the rhinos, but never heard her talk about the frogs. That said, I’m sure she’ll miss them too. I think sometimes about the world I’m making. I’m a little conscious, but not so much that I won’t absently suck on a plastic straw.

Last weekend, I wast at a friend’s house. As long as I’ve known her, she’s kept away from paper towels. When dinner was done and there were dishes for washing, we scrubbed them down with a wet rag. With breakfast, I wiped my lips with a cloth napkin. It was strange at first, not being able to throw anything away. Then it felt natural. Like this is how it’s always been, like my hands are maybe made for saving, no more disposable soul.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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That is the way it is done, the way it has always been done. Frogs have every right to expect it will always be done that way.

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 203

Hi.

Coffee: Small Black Coffee, McDonald’s; bought the cup at noon which wasn’t soon enough to pick my eyes up off the acid-wash road I’d been driving; at least the drive was a little easier after; I was so in need of the pick-me-up that I hardly tasted the coffee; really, I was just drinking a thin white cup and plastic lid

The last thing the city said to me was “Take a Right on Peachtree and keep going.” That’s how I left Atlanta.

I missed my post yesterday. The fourth time since starting, each time feels a little less bad. Is that a good thing? The Coffee Log came about in 2018 during a cold, disrupted February. The regularity of having every day work its way toward a keyboard helped me. But yesterday I was traveling and too filled up to put my thoughts down.

Atlanta looked like love to me. That’s to say it’s complicated. The streets were busy. Guys smoked the skyline on ashy tenth-floor balconies. My friend and tour-guide took me around town for a drive to different districts. It seemed like every corner had its murals in different colors. You danced between moods and misfortunes. Walk long enough by blossoming houses that can’t afford to root the ivy off their walls and you’ll get to a three-floored mansion, built on the backs of grandfathers, ready to take advantage of your budding affair.

But damn, it was all so beautiful.

Having taken a wrong turn past a bookstore, we routed a middling neighborhood holding up a canopy of century-old trees. In a patch of bare grass was a circle of tall red flowers. Then, a block later, I watched a woman pull a torn blue shirt onto a luckless man waiting out the hot day on crippled church steps. A different kind of love.

All of us are responsible to the ones we give our hearts to. Sometimes that can mean breathing a bit of space between you, and other times its to tape your fingers together and lift each other up. But it’s easiest to abuse what’s closest to you, your blood, partner, community, kin – it takes just a little bit of desire to put a hefty pricetag on what once was affordable housing, to – in deep rapture – take them for all they’re worth.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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When the Stranger says: “What is the meaning of this city ?
Do you huddle close together because you love each other?”
What will you answer? “We all dwell together
To make money from each other”? or “This is a community”?
Oh my soul, be prepared for the coming of the Stranger.
Be prepared for him who knows how to ask questions.

T.S. Eliot, The Rock

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

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

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.