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sunday post: it’s still sunday here if not in london

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1. Sitting outside at a cafe in Chapel Hill, where I’ve been sent (or is it taken) for a bit, Chapel Hill I mean not the cafe. The guy next to me in the smoking section outside is sitting with laptop open and a book positioned between his chest and the keyboard, taking notes.

2. What would it take to get back to work? It’s not of course as if I don’t do any – I imagine that I’m still, despite it all, in about the ninetieth percentile or so amongst academics, even if idiosyncratically so. The reviewery keeps falling from the skies of London, and I keep my deadlines or almost do. And for awhile there I was adding 2000 words per day to the novel, but even that was entre some very wavy lignes. I did 1900 today at a mall-lodged Barnes and Noble, after buying the Glen Beck novel with great embarrassment, all ready to explain that I want to write it up, negatively of course, for some very important foreign magazines. (Long readership prize if you can explain in comments what my angle for a comment piece – not a review obviously – on this book might be…)

3. Colleagues write and say that they like or even love the blog. Especially the darker bits. Ah hem. Don’t encourage me. What a slim membrane stretched between life writing and living to life write. (A question for a Barthes translator working on a text Barthes never wrote, or maybe even some that he did: why are the terms available in English for, um, creative writing (see?) so horrendously whimsical sounding or constrictively unabstract, just as our sex talk inebriatedly veers from the gutter to the sexual health clinic without stopping in the realm of the lovely and/or poetic?)

4. Want to stay here writing but my father will worry that I’m out drinking if I do. I won’t be able to finish this at their place, though, even though I’ve discovered today the snus. Not like I’m kissing anyone while I’m here, just in case you were worried…

4a. There’s a great bit in that new thing about Wallace by David Lipsky where, while on a plane, the former taunts the latter about his ability to enjoy nicotine enjoyment because of his dipping. Even better is the fact that he makes up an excuse for the flight attendant about having a plastic allergy so that she’ll give him a styrofoam cup rather than a clear plastic one, which would gross his fellow passengers out. I’d quote it if I were at home rather than sitting outside of Caribou Coffee in Chapel Hill.

4b. Snus requires no spitting at all. I tried it today and confess here on my confessional blog that I looked in the mirror to see if you could tell I had it in. Not to hide it from my parents, no, but rather with the thought that I might pop one in during long grad seminars. (Again – DFW prize if you mark the subtext in comments…)

5. I try to explain to my father why I have to write here and not there, now and not before or later, and under these conditions and not those, by saying that it’s like baseball – ticky, idiosyncratic, strewn with homespun and ad hoc mythologies and auto-gnomisms.

6. There are bugs walking around this sitting area that are so big that if I saw them in London they’d be mice, if not rats.

7. The fifth point was supposed to conclude on a different word, but I simply couldn’t remember it. It’s there but it’s simply not coming. The sensation of having a word but being not quite able to reach it, pull it out of the back of the mind. The fantasized geographies and topologies of the brain that one develops when this happens. Saw a horrible picture in the paper of a US soldier who had a third of his head blown away but somehow survived. One can’t help but wonder if certain words, turns of phrase, are missing. I imagine they are, along with much else, despite the redundancies and double wiring built into the system.

8. An engulfing, overwhelming fear of being alone and the way that the blog solves this so tantalizingly incompletely.

9. Horrible what enabled me to start writing this post. Fearful that it happens like that, terrifying my inability to learn easy lessons.

10. Is it America that makes me unable to write this in the third person that I normally take up in these?

11. A.O. Scott a few months ago in the NYT on Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask and the meme of “Generation X’s Midlife Crisis” in general:

Note the sudden swerve from world-historical grandiosity to consumerist banality; the attempt to camouflage sincere confusion with winking insouciance; the obsession with generalizing a personal experience.

While the terms on offer here seem intimately familiar to me, and likely to you if you read this blog, I on the other hand don’t fit the Gen X mold, at all, that Scott describes elsewhere in the piece. The slackerdom, the insolent refusal to grow up! I went straight from undergrad (where I took 39 separate courses while everyone else took 32, five per term except the first, while everyone else took four), went straight into my PhD, got my first tenure track job at 28, had my first kid at 28, got my second job at a more prestigious place and abroad at 32, had my second kid at 32, and hopefully (cross your fingers, or don’t at this point) will have two books out in 2011, at the age of 34. I am the purest child of meritocratic striving that you’ll ever meet, and now, sure, it’s starting to look a bit Greenberg at a premature age. Anyway…

11a. I was carded today buying cigarettes. The age to buy them is 18! What flattery. And the girl who did it said I never would have guessed you were that age. I wanted to respond, but didn’t, Well give it a few more years of this.

12. There’s a two-table outdoor smoking area at this cafe. I am seated in one of the tables. (The guy with the book is long since gone – actually he left last night. I’ve been writing this post for a long time now, albeit in the same place. Long enough that I actually remembered, earlier today in the shower, the word mentioned in 7, but it’s departed again. Stupid untrainable brain folds!) Just now, two young girls were seated at the next table. One of them said the phrase quotatation marks, then described herself in laughter as really really stupid, I just said “quotatation marks”!, and then caught my eye as I looked over. She must have thought this was a flirtatious move, on both of our parts. I was actually thinking, when I looked over, yes, you’re really stupid. Ah, the American South! Ah Southern girls!

13. Oh to be in London now etc.

14. What a malignancy this writing trade is. The psychopathology of house comparison, car comparison, that hovers like a fog over my parents’ community is nothing compared to New York Times Book Review anxiety, the anxiety that comes of seeing how smartly funny the start of Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask is.

15. A cockroach just ran up to my left foot. It’s getting near time to leave. I’m sure they have a different word for what that is, here in the South. Undoubtedly it’s a June Bug or something. But, reader, we know… A giant fucking cockroach.

16. If America is a nation of children, its sobriety renders it very adult compared to England. If England is a nation of adults, its inebriation renders it ominously childlike compared to America. And here I am, drinking coffee in the heat, about to roll home in a ridiculous car listening to satellite radio, worried that one of those June Bugs got into my bag, reeking of smoke but with mints in my pocket…

17. And there, as if on cue, are the fireworks…. Pictures of golf courses to be posted tomorrow or at least soon…

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July 5, 2010 at 2:31 am

Posted in coffee places, sunday

costa theatre

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Writing a piece about the place I used to live, due Tuesday, so there I was at Costa Coffee of a Sunday, yesterday:

Hipster-hippieish type comes in, with his red t-shirt and woollen cap, tries to game the girl at the counter with the “I gave you a tenner, not a fiver” routine. She insists. He says what one says: “I know what I had in my pocket and it’s impossible that I could have…”

She heads back to the back to review the CCTV. He sits in a corner with this latte. She never even stops on her way back, walks right past him with out comment or glance, back to work at the till, and he sits in a funk of awkwardness – a lazy decadent twit, not as clever as he thought, who’s just tried to game the Bangladeshi girl out of £5 that she’d end up replacing out of her own pocket, tried to steal an hour of her life but failed. Fuck this. Fuck her. I’ll sit out my coffee and hit another one. Fuck all of this. I’m not going to leave and let her see that it matters to me, any of this.

Then a young couple, baby hung in a harness which in turn is hung on the petite her of the her and him, come in, order. She lectures, in great detail and with increasing frustration, the barista on a better way to make the drinks that the barista makes all day, makes for a living. It is a matter of technique; perhaps the communication of better technique to employees of chain coffee houses is how this one does her share of world improvement. Knowledge transfer, the art of living.

Then, just as before, the turn. The creepy guy who is here all the time, incredibly skinny, dressed all in black and with a pointed beard and a cane (one might think junky, or even HIV-infected junky, but I am actually going to go with MS afflict, like my mom, from the way he walks…. There’s a softness to the way MS-types move through the world, and he has it in spades…) lurches over to her and begins to coo and cack and their precious one. Mom is forced to lock her feet and smile nervously. These are the things that one deals with living in the city, and I must bear it, I must be tolerant, though I’m increasingly unsure just why that is the case. At least something like that.

Street theatre. Love it. It’s like nature but with money and words. Like the best sort of tv but on all the time and for the price of a single cup of coffee or even for free.

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August 31, 2009 at 8:24 am

Posted in coffee places