Day 39 - CW Pencil Enterprise and Pain Relief
When I was in New York writing You Don’t Look Adopted, a date had me meet him late one afternoon at CW Pencil Enterprise. It was summer in New York and I walked the mile from my apartment after a day of writing, down 10th, past St. Marks, past my favorite coffee shop, Third Rail, where every morning I would show up just one step away from pajamas and get my coffee and muffin and head back home to work on the big white table under the chandelier; right on 2nd Ave, past B&H Dairy, the vegetarian diner where the beautiful dark-haired man worked the grill, his shoulders rounded, his young back curved into his work. After a week, when I’d sit at the counter for one of the many daily soups, I felt like a regular: he’d wink, butter my bread. To be in New York in the home of a famous writer while you write your own first book is like being pregnant, like carrying around a baby and so you smile even when you are looking at boxes of cereal at the market. Everything makes you happy or everything makes you sad. It’s the same: happy, sad. It all feels so good. You are in New York and you have money in your pocket and there is a record player in your apartment and a leather couch and carpets that cost more than your college education. Someone you have never met in person knows a good date is an hour looking at pencils.
I walked until I got to E Houston Street, and I took a left by the park, the basketball players, everything dirty and worn and so familiar, the Tenement Museum just blocks away, those tiny rooms, that tight, dark kitchen-hearted history preserved so we can touch what was. Is it possible that the city of your birth stays in your DNA so that when you hear the language, see the leaves in the tree, touch the walls, your inside self remembers?
I bought pencils, a heavy pencil sharpener. I talked to the woman behind the counter at CW Pencils. She was an M.F.A. student at N.Y.U. We talked writers and books and pencils. My date was quiet and polite. That whole afternoon and evening he was like a doorway to magical New York for me. He took me to many special places. I remember everything but his name.
This was two years ago. Since then, I have thought about New York every day the way you think of a child who has grown up and left home or the lottery money you had before you blew it all. Since then, I signed up to get the quarterly boxes from CW Pencil, and every three months I get to feel eight years old for a while. Today my box arrived from CW Pencils and I’m eight again, which is a good thing, because it’s day two of giving up coffee, and my head is killing me.
I have been dreading this headache long enough and willfully enough to have been talking about wanting to give up coffee since before we had a President who wasn’t white, since the time we had a President who was an actor, not just one acting as if he were President. I have been wanting to give up coffee since the first time I sipped it as a college sophomore and was shocked to find that something that smelled so good tasted worse that dirt. Dirtier than dirt. That is so disgusting. Can I have more, please? And thus began adulthood.
Coffee makes waking up worth it. You can be in bed, gritty-eyed and cranky, but the thought of the caffeine jolt gets you out from the tangle of sheets into the open kitchen air. Life is good when you are high on caffeine. For me, a second cup never replicated the first. The first cup brought me to the edge of myself and the second cup turned the lights bright on the party and made everything hurt. Sometimes the first cup did that, and those days were terrible. Those are the days I wanted to be over as soon as they started.
I don’t want to gamble my days any more. Coffee is an unsteady companion. This 93-day project has helped me see just how much I need steadiness in my life in order for my guts and head to feel calm. I need friends who are dependable. Food that soothes rather than agitates my system. Overall, I am avoiding drama, conflict, unnecessary stress.
So coffee’s out.
The headache is as I remember from past attempts at quitting. The top of my head is screwed on too tightly and my temples feel as if someone is trying to drive their fists into either side of my face. I want to cry. I want the relief caffeine will bring me, the space to think, the freedom to believe everything will be okay because I am strong (high).
I have a headache, but I also have my pencil box. Everything in the box this time is made from recycled materials: the pencils, the pencil sharpener, the clay, the little notebook, the packaging. There is a pencil that is made of coffee grounds and flowers and if I plant it, it will grow gooseberries. This pencil is thicker than a regular pencil and feels dense. It feels wild, true, and beautiful. This pencil gives me hope. If something as original and clever as it can exist, my headache is a story not worth focusing on. Better to focus on beauty than self-inflicted pain.
I remembered something from a cranial-sacral teacher I once had. She was talking about pain, about how, if we can envision it, we can move it, change it, maybe even make it disappear. I thought about the top of my head, how it felt like the top to a jar was screwed on too tightly. I imagined the top, metal and round, and in my mind I unscrewed it a little, just as you would unscrew the top to a stubborn jelly jar. The pressure on the top of my head decreased. I was creating space in my head. Then I pictured the tightness on either side of my head. I saw it as dark clouds. I played with imagining them a lighter color. I expanded them. Shrank them. I went inside them, like I was a plane and they were air so I could see they didn’t even really exist. They disappeared I was entirely without pain. I smelled my Fabula pencil, like caffeinated flowery compost, and I felt privileged to be alive.
It’s an incredible feeling, being in control of something that seemed so out of control. What if my addiction to coffee is just a story I tell myself? What if any problem I have is just a story I tell myself? Sure, having a headache is a problem. Sure, having no money is a problem, but it those things aren’t problems until I say they are. Even something as extreme as going hungry and losing your home isn’t a problemuntil you say it is one.
I get beautiful pencils and accoutrements in the mail because once upon a time a man thought I might like to visit a pencil store and I went and fell in love. I had used pencils as a child. In high school and college, I had switched to pens and typewriters, and then, in graduate school, I had used a computer. Pencils were for the bowling alley. Pencils were for children.
It feels so good to write with a pencil. It feels earnest, sweet, innocent. I wonder if I will say different things if I write with a pencil instead of with a pen, or instead of using a keypad. I will write my next blog post with my Fabula pencil. The smell of it will be on my fingers all day.
When you give up something, you create a space, and that’s when the wild can step in. I gave up coffee and ended up with a gorgeous pencil made from coffee grounds. There are many wonderful things about life. One of them is irony.
See you tomorrow.