Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 250

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

Time is a toddler – uncooperative and full of surprises.

I’ve been having a hard time budgeting. Not my money (it’s my job to be good at that) but my time. The more you pour into one thing the less there is to go around. It’s an easy idea, everyone gets it, but there’s a feeling you don’t know until it cuts you up. This piece, that piece, weigh them, leave one behind. There might be room in your heart for everything you love but there’s not enough room in life.

I read an article about how people are unrecognizable as they grow older. It was a study, it followed a few individuals from grade school into their 70’s. Their personalities changed. Wants, priorities. Compare the recordings from when they were younger and you often couldn’t see them in themselves.

I was a cellist. In sixth grade, that’s all I was. Ask me what I’d be in ten years and I’d say professional: playing in an orchestra on a big stage, Manhattan, or Barcelona, somewhere sufficiently fancy and important, one of those places that always smell like it’s about to rain. But I didn’t make it ten years. I quit playing after high school, haven’t touched the cello since.

I felt good today. I’m settling into a recent promotion and we just hired someone to take my old position. I’ve been showing her the ropes. There’s a kind of confidence that only comes from knowing something well enough to show someone else how to do it. I’m a social animal. I might not care about all the sorts of status that society does, but I can’t avoid caring about feeling comfortable and accomplished in the roles I place myself in. And all that really scares me because how much blood will be left to move my fingers when I get home? How much space in my brain will there be for anything else?

The worst thing you can do is have the cake without tasting it. You baked it, might as well dig in. Like it or not, you’ve written off your time before you realize it’s gone. The best hope for any of is to set ourselves in motions we can live with.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

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Tell me, he said, “What is this thing about time? Why is it better to be late than early? People are always saying, we must wait, we must wait. what are they waiting for?”
“Well […] I guess people wait in order to make sure of what they feel.”
“And when you have waited—-has it made you sure?”

James Baldwin, Giovanni’s Room

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 249

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

Two Greeks walked into my office. Old, retired, they used to live in Thessaloniki. They needed some help setting up ownership, planning for probate, one was the daughter, one was her father, her mother had died. She sounded like peanut butter when she said it, ‘Mom’s gone.’ On their way out, I dug up an old travel memory and said ‘thank you,’ efharisto.

An older woman sat down across from me and raised her hands. “I’m bringing you trouble,” she said, drawing out the ‘t.’ Jewish. She was having issues operating her online banking. I talked to the woman for half an hour and thought we had the problem solved then she came back. We called the hotline and tried different things. She said she’s bad with technology. She said she’s bad with computers. She said she doesn’t understand why something so simple gets complicated, and I remembered all the times I ever said ‘this is easy,’ and felt bad. Later, when the day was done, packing up, she calls, I answer, and she says its working, and that she was so excited she had to tell me. She said I must be happy to be through with her and I tell her I’d be happy helping anytime. I meant it.

I talked to an Indian doctor who tells dry jokes. I ask him how he’s doing, he says awful, as always. He tells me about all the relatives coming down. Then we get to business and I help him send a wire. It’s international. It goes out, It comes back. Our bank needs clarification on the address. So I call him, the doctor, and try to get the address. He talks so soft and fast it’s hard to understand. I have to ask him to repeat it and by the end we’re both laughing. I don’t know why I’m laughing, I don’t know if he knows. Everything works out in the end.

America sounds best in many accents.

I have never lived anywhere but New York or New England, but there are times when I’m talking to you and I hit a Southern vowel, or a word gets caught in a Southern truncation, and I know it’s because I’m swimming in your cadences, that you permeate my very language.

David Levithan, The Lover’s Dictionary

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 248

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s

I remember when I had a flip phone. Life was less accessible. No maps, no email. But I’m not saying anything new.

A lot of my time is digital. I liken it to playing solitaire at a French cafe. The cards are replaced by the keyboard and the ambient conversations are twitter feeds, but both have coffee and stiff chairs. Matching up moments, looking for aces.

In Another Country, Baldwin talks about how everyone’s caught the shadow of this French Cathedral. The entire town walks with it, watchful, schoolmaster, never alone. It was striking writing and it resonated. But then I started thinking about my own monoliths and I couldn’t come up with one. Cary has an ordinance that prevents building skyscrapers, or putting up billboards. The only tall shadows are the natural down of pine trees. So, living in this low world, I don’t go out much, and if I do the trip takes me father than home, a tourist. Nothing fixes us to that shared center, all our monoliths are our own.

I’m listening to lofi while I write this. There’s 300 other people in the Youtube channel. But I don’t see them and they don’t see me, and I could close this window at any time. Sometimes, I just wish someone would touch me, like bread breaking; French cafe.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

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Patience’s design flaw became obvious for the first time in my life: the outcome is decided not during the course of play but when the cards are shuffled, before the game even begins. How pointless is that?

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 247

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s; coffee dark as squid ink; did you know that when a squid sprays it’s got to keep moving or it’ll suffocate? the most dangerous things were inside us all along; the coffee was good, burnt bread

I walked to a smoothie shop. E came with me. I wore my favorite sweater, it was only just cold enough. At the strip-mall, everyone was out and about. I looked in the windows of the supplement store. It used to be a candy store but there weren’t enough kids around.

At Juice Vibes, we ran into a neighbor. E went off to the farmer’s market with him so I walked home alone. It was sunny. The smoothie went straight to my brain. I used to drink smoothies every day between college classes. A place in the student center. I don’t know what’s there now, but they don’t serve smoothies.

There was this forest, a small one, behind Duke Chapel. It had two paths, both going to the science center. I took a few classes at the science center and would walk along the trails sipping all that fruit juice crushed and iced up. It was best in the winter when you were already cold because it gave you a good excuse – ‘this is fashionable, it’s hip, it’s in.’ You wanted your innards to match the outside. I got banana mango back then but today I went with pineapple.

These have been my days: tired out, up early, waiting for the season to change. Now it’s changing and I guess I’ve got to start working. New Years, flashing cameras, one more walk off the broad, dark pier. It’ll be better in 2020. Or maybe it won’t. But I have to believe it or I’ll be stuck drowning; squid ink.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

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Ink, a Drug.

Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 246

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

I was out to dinner and had a glass of tequila but I would have rather been drinking mezcal. Something with a story to it. Caught up in the lime lights of my glass, all my friends talking, and I didn’t want to hear any of it.

I’ve been trying to reset my schedule. I’ve been waking up earlier, pushing back the hours. Bedtime, though, isn’t budging. I get under the covers at 9:30 and I’m restless, or something comes up. Last night I dreamed about college. Old as I am now and back in it, taking chemistry classes, skipping all the lectures, worried I’ll fail the tests. A classic dream. Driving back from the restaurant, my friend said he’d also had it. We were in the same classroom, I guess. We’d had the same pressures. Closer in those dream-time labs than reality.

It’s a cold night. Maybe I’ll feel better once I find the covers.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

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And in the town too were innumerable white cantinhas, where one could drink forever on credit, with the door open and the wind blowing.

Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 245

Hi.

Coffee:  Maxwell House Master Blend, Office Coffee

Halloween.

A witch’s wind whipped up the parking lot. I watched kids cramming into cars to cart off to safe spaces to trunk or treat. ‘It isn’t safe here,’ they were saying with their perfect plastic pumpkins and slammed doors. ‘It isn’t safe here’ was all I heard hounded out of exhaust pipes.

One family was left behind. A dad and daughter, he’s forty, she’s four. He’s in his work rags and she’s a bright yellow. Map in hand, looking for the apartments marked ‘open’, he’s got his hands full. The wind gets under and over, slips grey fingers, tries to take away his map. It doesn’t want them to know where they’re going. When you cast a spell, you surrender yourself.

We’re under watch for tornadoes tonight. You can smell them, the dug-up, acid-wash. It’s 78 degrees and humid. A thin blue mist sticks to all the windows. Looking up, past the cloud, you catch catches of what you think are stars. But who can be sure of anything on a Halloween? A midnight? A too-warm October? Small black frogs have the path along the stream but won’t dive it. Whether it’s from knowing or not knowing what’s running in that water, who can say?

It isn’t safe here. And we all know it implicitly because we’re the ones who make this place. No trust, no knowing your neighbors, no stepping too far beyond your front doors, we’re all black frogs on the river bank, and who can blame us when the world is a few degrees warmer? I want to love you with my breath and sweat and hands but I’m too scared to feel you, to find what’s out there, to pick you from the dark.

Happy Halloween. I hope the kids come home with clear heads and full pumpkins. And to the Girl in Yellow, keep close watch on your father – he needs that bit of magic you haven’t lost yet, a ward against the night.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

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Tis the night—the night
Of the grave’s delight,
And the warlocks are at their play;
Ye think that without,
The wild winds shout,
But no, it is they—it is they!

Arthur Cleveland Coxe, Halloween: A Romaunt

Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 244

Hi.

Coffee: Cafe Pajaro Extra Dark, Trader Joe’s

It’s a different feeling finishing a book when someone you know wrote it. Warm, pedestrian, jealous. You think less about the specifics of what was written and more about the person; you’re on the front row of an opera watching people put on their outfits through a crack in the curtains.

‘Queen’ was written by my friend and colleague Suzanne Crain Miller. I met Suzanne at the now-defunct Third Wednesdays, an open-mic for authors. Suzanne was running the show. When I met her, she had these big wide eyes that seemed to fix on the outsides of you, figuring out your lines, drawing you up. I could tell she was someone who spends a lot of time trying to write the world down.

‘Queen’ is about the South. The small South, the almost-rural, the mostly-poor. It’s a place big enough for no-one to know each other except from watching out the windows, small enough that if you watch a long time you’ll catch sight of someone’s private side. I know a lot of places like this. Snow Camp, Alamance, Mebane. I used to drive through them. They threaten you with yourself, you push the gas.

The book follows three narrators, all of whom are picked apart by their private sides. It’s a book about keeping secrets. Building coal fires in your den, waiting for the house to burn down, naked. Violent cop, sheltered teenager, the identities you try to escape eventually find you. Even in the novel’s climax, when the heroes are victorious and the bad men are laid down, there’s an unsettling sense that no-one’s good actions are really good, that a privileged birth was always going to lead to happiness, and there’s only so much room for happiness on the small town streets that you can’t spread it around to everyone.

When I finished reading, I thought about quiet crowds and microphones. I had a beer.

I’m happy to have read this book, and flattered that my friend let me read it. It’s not nothing to write something, not nothing to read it, and pretty damn cool to know the writer. Support the author and buy her book here.

Currently Reading: Another Country, James Baldwin

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

No matter what you do, someone always knew you would.

Ami McKay, The Birth House