Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 163


Coffee: Pike Place, Apartment Lounge Blend

The power went out while I was talking to a guy who shines shoes. He’d been telling me about his business, about a bounce-back from hardship, and what it takes to get the best sheen out of black leather. Then the room when dark. We were still comfortable, though. We’d already gotten to feel out each other’s souls.

I got a shot in my arm for tetanus, all on account of a cut on my thumb that keeps bleeding. Some of the blood slipped onto my work pants. Ripest red apples in late fall. Seeing that color made me feel like there must be something sweet inside me to paint the world so vivid. It helped me feel better when the needle was looking for my vein.

I’ve been listening to country songs on recommendation. I’ve enjoyed about half of them, but what’s stood out the most is the way they’ve changed the texture of my day. They’re not full of the aggression that sounds out the music that I’m used to. These songs come from walking through small towns in deep mountains, or getting lost on your cousin Mike’s farm. As I was leaving the doctor’s, a track started playing that had Beyonce singing beside the Dixie Chicks. The song was full of drawn out harmony, strained strings, women singing strength through hoarse vocal chords. It felt close to me, old knowledge, a red caboose. It was morning then, just drizzling, and I had no way of knowing that six hours later I’d been sitting in darkness with a shoe shine, but I could have predicted it, because the music was already showing me deep, dark spaces, three fruits on a gnarled tree, a side of our urban landscape that I rarely recognize, but that always walks with me, the red southern clay.

Currently Reading: Queen, Suzanne Crain Miller

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If I ever get out of Dixie
Gonna buy me some brand new shoes
Gonna have somebody shine ’em up soon as I pay my dues

Ashley Monroe, Dixie

Coffee Log, Day 254


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


If there’s been one constant direction to my life’s running, it’s been the creep of southern dialect back into my vocabulary. I was raised to talk ‘well.’ This was in some kind of benign, quiet, judgmental contrast to those people who talked ‘good.’ My mom was a northerner, my dad was a lawyer, my grandparents on both sides came from old aspirations to aristocracy. Language is a tool of conveyance, and from the jump I was taught to convey a lofty, removed superiority.

Hell with all that mess.

I was a confused kid for lots of reasons. In middle school, my parents had me in therapy. It was a good move and I needed it. I went to see a Christian counselor even though no-one in my family was Christian. She was a friend.

I saw her for a year in her downtown office. I’d sit on that green-red couch and she’d make us both coffees with vanilla creamer. We talked about a lot of things. She taught me how to watch people, get to know them at a distance, and appreciate what they must be going through. Said it wouldn’t stop the fists or jabs but it would give you perspective enough to forgive the hits that were coming. Good lessons. On my last day with her, we walked downtown for ice cream. We ate in the parlor. The guy who served us said ‘Y’all take care’ when we left. I remember telling her that he shouldn’t have said that – that it was a dirty word, something like ‘shit’ or ‘damn.’ She laughed. She asked me why I thought that. She said I was southern. I said I didn’t want to be. She said you can’t change what you are.

I took a couple things home with me that night, one of them a sick stomach on account of the ice cream. The next day, I said ‘How y’all doin’ to my family. They were flabbergasted.

Well, I’ve been speaking damn good ever since.

Novel Count: 3,546 words

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

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“So that I might face my past,
I dug these words from the richest southern soil
and held them in my hands like seeds waiting for rain.” – Brenda Sutton Rose


Coffee Log, Day 201


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

Hurricane’s coming. It was on NPR the whole morning drive. It was top of the feed on Google News. It came out of every set of lips I worked with today, some trembling, some laughing, some just full of gunk.

Hey Florence, nice to meet you.

After work, I went to the store and bought bread and peanut butter. Easy to eat without power as a vegetarian. Traffic was backed up around multiple corners outside every grocery store so I did my shopping at a Walgreens. It was busy too, but not so much. There were kids buying Halloween candy with their lunch money. There were families stocking toiletries, distressed dads. On the way in, I passed a woman in a sleek blue dress and wondered what party you might go to on a Monday. At checkout, a Swedish woman asked me two times if I had a membership card.

The Southern way is to joke about things that scare you. Power-poles falling on your relatives, rampant flooding, or the dry creekbeds of yet-another-industry-departure. We stand up straight and sneer real good and maybe have a drink or two. There’s no extra strength in the show, it’s just bravado, but there’s a power in the collective spell of casting your best side outward with a mouthful of tobacco spit and letting whatever comes, come.

I might drive home to beat the worst of Florence or I might stick it out. I hope those on the coast make it through.

Currently Reading: Autumn, Ali Smith

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“It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.” – Bob Dylan


Coffee Log, Day 112


Coffee: Organic Sumatra Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

One of the customers is going to Scandanavia. Specifically, Norway and Sweden and Denmark. All three countries have kroner, he ordered some of each. This customer is an old man with white hair. He wore a purple polo today. He’s plump like a chicken under the butcher’s knife.

This guy had a particular style to him: no matter what he was saying, it became condescending. He asked whether you could interchange the kroner across countries. We looked it up, you can’t. He said: “Oh, look at you, you learned something today.” He pointed at each of us with freeze-dried fingers. It was hard not to laugh.

There’s a mean streak to white Southern pride. You define yourself against the rest of the world. If you are to have worth, you have to compete and you have to win and you have to let everyone else know you’re winning. Big-rim trucks. Your aunt’s three-foot Sunday hat.

I love and hate that part of my heritage. Hate it for the obvious reason: it’s obnoxious. Love because it’s pitifully honest, pitifully animal, a bunch of eager baboons comparing ass-cheeks.

Currently Reading:
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

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“Early in my career…I had to choose between an honest arrogance and a hypercritical humility… I deliberately choose an honest arrogance, and I’ve never been sorry.”- Frank Lloyd Wright


Coffee Log, Day 97


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

I stood on the bridge in the rain and thought about smoking something (I didn’t) then I thought about drinking something (I didn’t) then I thought about writing something (I did).

I’ve only smoked four cigars. Tobacco has been in my blood since birth. Well, probably before birth. I’m a North Carolina boy. The pride and prejudice of tobacco leaf grew my home. Pride in the gaunt Southern swagger of smoking something strong on a hot summer porch; prejudice in the bloody hands my ancestors forced to pick it.

Fire’s in my blood.

I think that being Southern means being the most proud, arrogant bastard standing below the sun; I think that being white Southern means an unreachable sin, a wretching guilt, and the knowledge that the day you’re born your heart is already six-feet deep below black-brown soil.

And we smoke that fear away.

Currently Reading:
Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

“I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.”- Flannery O’Connor


Coffee Log, Day 60


Coffee: Organic Sumatra Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

I think about family. I belong to a lawyer and musician who met at a Chapel Hill bus stop. That’s the only ownership I’m certain of but I’m damn sure I’ve got more ties than that. Every so often I open my bedroom window, listen to whatever’s out there, and try acknowledging my blood.

The South is inside me. It sets me on one side of the train tracks, even though I grew up on the other. I’m white as day-lilies and grew up poor as my third-son ancestor who left England for Virginia when he knew he’d inherit nothing. I consume black art. The people I’d like to relate to, I have no right to. The people I’m welcome with frighten me.

There’s a handful of people I’ve struggled to get my genes inside. Metaphorically, sometimes, and a little more literal at others. We met in disparate places for no particular reason. Meaning has a funny way of finding you.

Work friendships and loves like a sleepless cobbler. Everybody needs a good few shoes to keep off the ground.

Currently Reading:
The Pardoner’s Tale, by John Wain

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“Looking at them both now, Jerome found himself in their finger joints and neat conch ears, in their long legs and wild curls. He heard himself in their partial lisps caused by puffy tongues vibrating against slightly noticeable buckteeth. He did not consider if or how or why he loved them. They were just love: they were the first evidence he ever had of love, and they would be the last confirmation of love when everything else fell away.” – Zadie Smith, On Beauty