On Ritual

I see a lot of potential in the morning. When I am awake, I try to be. Living with someone who isn’t quite as into mornings as I am, I’m starting to understand that not everyone feels the same way about it as I do. That time between waking and working is my most productive for a number of reasons, the least of which is the quiet. When I started my new job, I began waking an hour earlier to solidify some new habits in my day to day. I get up and out of bed, take too long a shower, check Reddit to see if the president has been impeached while I was sleeping, groom myself, brush my teeth, get dressed, and then I walk to the subway, careful to lock the door behind me so that no one breaks into my apartment while my girl sleeps. This is her fear, but I respect her enough to trust it.

Using public transportation gives me a closer look at people in this early stage of the day. It is a time of silence for most. The occasional cell phone or lack of self-awareness will break the quiet, splintering the illusion that we are all collectively still asleep. Sometimes the trains make emergency stops in the tunnels for one reason or another. Perhaps someone is on the tracks again. It happens sometimes. One person will start to freak out a little. In my experience, this is usually an overweight woman, who says ‘Lord’ a lot. Just an observation; it’s happened three times to me now.

When the trip goes off without a hitch, I arrive at 34th street with my supplies for the day: a good pen with plenty of ink, several notebooks, and my computer. I make my way to Friedman’s for coffee, which is a new habit. The waiters are starting to recognize me now—by face not name just yet. This is fine, because they are always cordial and not in the way waiters have to be cordial. They flash genuine grins and say things like ‘welcome back, man’. I like it a lot. It’s probably because for an hour or so, my time feels like it has some meaning. We’re all together. They’re doing a job for someone that’s grateful to receive it, and I think they’re a little grateful, too.

I don’t think any of them want to be waiting tables that early in the morning, but they have to in order to support themselves in this city of high expense and exorbitant costs. A.J. says hello and asks me how I’m doing this morning. He wants to be a writer. He writes reviews because that’s what pays, but he’d rather write plays. He’s already written a few. One about “dog parties”—a party for instagram famous dogs—and one about his friend’s suicide. It’s a one man show, he says. Instead of answering his question, I ask him how he’s doing. I don’t know why. That’s just how it came out. He tells me he’s doing well but that he needs another cup of coffee. I say something like that makes two of us. He smiles. I smile. It feels good. He pours me some coffee. I’m waiting for the day I walk in and someone says black coffee, right? That’s right. Thank you so much. I mean it.

I sit down at the counter in the same place I always sit. It’s beginning to feel like ritual, and I need ritual in my life. I don’t know why. The seat at the end of the counter is part of the ceremony. If I’m not there, where am I? Once I ordered an omelet, which they made with onions and mustard. It tasted like the cheeseburgers you can get at Country Boys Hamburgers back home. If it wasn’t $20 I would get it every morning, but unfortunately the food is a little expensive. The coffee is reasonable though, and I don’t mind paying a little extra in tips for the good service.

Stacking my notebooks on the table, first I check my calendar to prepare myself for the oncoming day, making sure nothing sneaks up on me. I have an hour before I have to be anywhere, and if something were to come up, I’d have a little bit of cushion. Exercise has become a regular part of my day as well, and when I’m looking at my schedule I start to wonder if I should exchange this time for a run instead of a writing session. Nah. This is good.

Pen to paper, I get some journaling in to warm me up before I go to town on whatever fiction I’m working on. I’m a terrible fiction writer. I’ve just now started to admit it to myself. I have no direction. As much as I want to be William Faulkner/John Steinbeck, I’m beginning to think it might not happen. My characters always end up sitting at some coffee shop—sometimes in Brooklyn, other times Nashville—writing things down and mulling things over. Fuck. Not again. Start over with something else. Two guys sitting in a diner talking things out. That’s the same thing, you dumbass, except now there’s two of you. Goddamit.

I’m running into a lot of creative blocks lately. My voice has been caked up for days, and I can’t seem to find new lines for songs. Everything sounds the same, and I’m frustrated. But these mornings remind me that it’s work. I have to be my own midwife, giving birth to whatever it is that has to be pushed out. That’s a stupid and romantic way to think about it, but an important part of that process is just showing up. Some days are fruitful and others are stoppered. Some days I question whether or not any of it matters and quit so that I can make more time to play Grand Theft Auto.

I don’t have any answers, but it helps to reflect on the questions that tend to crop up. Maybe my rituals will become part of someone else’s. It’s funny to think of yourself in a supporting role, but for everyone else, that’s exactly the part you play. Often my advice to myself is to try to pay attention as much as possible, because running on autopilot is time wasted. We’ve had all eternity before we were born and we’ll have all eternity after we’re dead to be unconscious of this world.

The top of the hour approaches, and I look down at my watch. 10 ’til 9. I ask for the bill, and A.J. goes and gets it. Another guy behind the counter asks if I want my coffee to go and then asks if I’d like for him to go ahead and top off the to-go cup. I tell him I do and he does it. Here you go. Thanks, man. I usually write something about how good the service was on the receipt. Maybe no one reads that. It’d be okay if no one did. I feel like I’m giving them something back, a little gift for later in addition to the tip.

Gathering my things, I set the notebooks in my tote one at a time, slipping the pen in my breast pocket for when I arrive at my desk upstairs. The morning ritual is over, but it’s fine because I’ll get to do it again tomorrow. I’ve managed to start the day off slow, and I’m almost always in a good mood when I walk out the door to go to work. There’s something about that kind of thing, the repetition of procedural step-taking. The day might end differently than it did the day before. I might have plans with a friend or a television show to catch up on with Marisa after dinner. But the fact that I’ve begun each day with intention helps me set the pace for the rest of it. It gives me time to decide what kind of person I’m going to be. These are the things I’m going to do every day. This is an appointment I must keep.

 

On New England

I am starting to grow fond of New England, its land and its people. It is different from the South, where I grew up, but it has similarities. Their food is regional and specific while the people are kind but guarded. It has history and haunting beauty in its scenery and culture that reminds me of my own family and heritage.

In the heart of Rhode Island, I am reminded of those old Southern roads where the weeds crawl up from the ditches on either side, soaking up the pavement, although there is far less kudzu and no roadkill to be seen. The coasts are breathtaking. Never in my life have I seen so many sailboats. They make me think of E.B. White who sailed small boats off the coast of Maine. At sunset when the blue turns to an orange and purple afterglow, Narragansett Bay is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It makes perfect sense to me that tycoons like the Vanderbilt’s built their mansions on those Newport cliffs that overlook the chilly Atlantic waters of Sheep Point Cove.

I was lucky enough to get to spend the entire weekend on one such property. The estate was beautiful, peering out over the rocks onto Sachuest Bay and Second Beach, where beach-goers lounged and tossed footballs in the sand. The water was calm, and the majority of surfers and their boards were washed up on shore. I’d like to say I got in the water, but truthfully, it was too cold for my taste, being used to the sun kissed waters of the Florida coastline. I managed to nurse a can of Founders while reading Stephen King short stories on my beach towel, Brooklyn Nets cap pulled down to shade my eyes.

King often puts me in the right mood for New England. Yes, his stories take place in Maine, for the most part, but the setting is not so different. Characters (especially pre-AA King characters) drink “Gansett” beer and speak fondly of Sox baseball, as they do on Aquidneck Island. King could’ve just as easily been walking down an old road in South Kingstown when he got hit by that infamous van in North Lovell. I’m probably showing some ignorance here, and I apologize if I offend any Mainers or Rhode Islanders when I draw the comparison. There is simply an air of old world strangeness akin to those old King tales I grew up reading that I can’t seem to shake when I’m in the Northeast part of the country. It’s electric with the unseen and a sense of foreignness that excites and intrigues me. I am falling in love again.

Sitting on Second Beach, I made the decision to put down my book and climb to the top of the dunes behind where we collected as a group of beach-goers. I set to walking up the steep bank, patched with grass like sophomore facial hair, and when I reached the top, I gazed out over the entirety of the beach, taking in the great rocks where children perched like Fraggles, lean bodies toasting in the sun. Behind us, away from the shoreline was a large, grassy marsh that turned into a dark pond almost out of sight. A green hill sloped up from it’s bank on which stood a cottage with deep brown clapboard siding, in the old New England style. In that moment, I wanted to live in that house, waking up every morning to pour myself a cup of steaming hot coffee, the Boston Herald lazing beneath the Newport Daily on my table, bitching about Trump and supplying fishing reports. I’d finish my cup, collect myself on the seat of an old bicycle, and pedal to the dock to cast out for striped bass and fluke after doing a healthy amount of writing in my study, of course, where paintings of local lighthouses don the walls.

It’s fairly idealistic, and I’ll admit that I’m the first to fantasize about where I’m going to live next, even if I just moved to a place. The prospects have included Nashville, New York City, Buenos Aires, Chattanooga, Denver, Memphis, and countless other places, some of which I’ve actually lived and others that remain potential homes where I’ll raise my future family with my future wife. I have always been a restless person, and I’ve quit trying to quit. It’s in my nature; I’ve accepted it.

The trip back to the city was more or less eventful. I95 in Connecticut is something the devil concocted, stretched out with bumper to bumper traffic of some of the biggest, gaping assholes you ever did see. Sharing the road with those morons, I admit I lost my temper once or twice and had to be talked down from the precipice, as I put my entire weight on the horn for a solid minute and a half, furious at the lime green Boxter in front of us that cut us off and then kept stopping abruptly with a license place that read “GoKaaart” just begging to be destroyed. Marisa and Kate, I apologize. Again. Turns out I’m one of the assholes too.

Leaving Rhode Island for Brooklyn felt strange, like leaving for Nashville from Mississippi before I called it home. Coming to a halt in Stanford, I let myself have that fantasy again, the one where I get home from work and walk across the street to sit with Jud Crandall from Pet Sematary and drink a few too many ‘Gansetts’ and talk about politics or the latest sports gossip—that is, before any horrifying events unfold and I bury my wife and child in an ancient MicMac burial ground. And in that moment, I was happy. I was satisfied just sitting there with him on the front porch in my mind, listening to folksy wisdom in his coarse New England accent and talking about Mississippi and how the two places really aren’t so different.

Maybe it will happen. Maybe I’ll pack my things in a few years and get the hell away from everyone and everybody. Who knows. Shit happens and things change in an instant, but for now, I’ll sit tight. Brooklyn is home, and it will be for the foreseeable future. New York City still holds some magic for me of which I’ve yet to shake or grow tired, but the more I think about New England, its old roads with fading white houses at the end, the more that old feeling starts again and I start to look at maps to see how far I can go before I’m too far away.

 

 

 

 

On Mastering the Mundane

My room is quiet.

You wouldn’t think so, living in the city, but it’s true. With the exception of the occasional rumble of the local train, coursing the rails from Harlem to Downtown Manhattan, every dust particle floating through the air hangs on the absence of sound (can you hear Simon and Garfunkel playing softly in the recesses of your mind right now, because I surely cannot). There are tombs noisier than this.
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On My Own

“Don’t date anyone for at least a year.”

This piece of advice is given to men and women who are recently divorced. I’ll admit that no one said this to me exactly. “Take your time,” they said, “you’ll find someone who adores you. Someone who really loves you. They’re out there, and when you find them, you’ll see the difference between what you had and what you’ll have.”

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