Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” On the first of each month, Catching Days hosts a guest writer in the series, “How We Spend Our Days.” Today, please welcome writer Sheri Reynolds:
My cat wakes me up early, predictably, tapping at my nose with her paw. She’s always gentle at first, but if I don’t get up and feed her, she’ll use her claws, so I get up. Downstairs I make the coffee, wrap up in blankets and go out to the porch swing with my laptop. I’m between writing projects at the moment, and nervous because my editor has had my just-finished novel for three weeks, and I haven’t heard back. So I do research for a new idea – I’m studying the cloth-diaper industry and learning about diaper services – and I write for an hour, just brainstorming. Then I join my partner Barbara out on the back deck, where we watch the day lighten, drink more coffee, visit with the birds.
After breakfast, we walk to the bay. We live on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and every morning, we take our dog down to the beach to run. Today we wear ear-muffs and gloves, even though it’s only October, because the north wind’s blowing. Home again, I get ready for work.
I have an hour-long drive across the bay to Old Dominion University where I teach. Though my classes only meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have to go in today (a Wednesday) because I haven’t finished some committee paperwork and because we have a visiting writer on campus. My drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, connecting the Eastern Shore to Virginia Beach, is always daydream time for me. I work on a character in my head, try to see the world the way she does. This character pictures people as they were in the womb. Everyone she meets, she sees as a fetus. I see fetuses all across the bay: the toll-collector, the highway worker. Even the seagulls I imagine curled up and slimy in their eggs.
At school, I fill out forms for curricular changes and send emails to my advisees, reminding them it’s time to choose classes for next spring. The poet Jorn Ake is on campus to give a craft talk about his poetry, and I’m secretly hoping the room will be packed so I can say hi and slip out. I have a headache, and I still haven’t prepped my classes for tomorrow. But only eight students show up, so I stay. In the end, I’m really glad I did. He’s fabulous. He discusses the way different components of his poems come together, the historical, the political, the personal.
By the time I leave campus, it’s after two, and I haven’t had lunch, so I stop at a strip-mall for a slice of pizza. (Okay, two slices.) I sit in a booth with my journal, intending to make some notes about my creative writing class for tomorrow, but instead I start a little poem. I don’t really write poems – but sometimes when I’m excavating memories, they come out shaped like poems. For some reason, I’m writing about my great uncle Gurley, realizing for the first time that his name sounded like “Girly” and wondering what that was like for him. The TV is blasting – apparently there’s a funny movie on because the guy working behind the counter keeps cracking up.
Back home, I collapse in the hammock and reread some scenes from Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire.” I’m teaching it tomorrow in my Southern Lit class. The sun’s out now, warm on my head. The dog and cat have both crashed beneath me in the shade I’m making. I close my eyes and try to send telepathy to my editor, telling her: “Love my book. Love it!” I check to see if she emailed, but she didn’t.
I send her more telepathy while I’m working in the garden. Something has eaten tiny holes in all the kale. There’s lettuce to pick and then wash. I practice a few songs on the guitar while I’m waiting for Barbara to get home from work. Ordinarily I cook on Wednesdays, but tonight we’re meeting friends at the Pub around the corner. It’s a fun night, but by nine we’re home again, in pajamas, wrapped up in comforters and sitting out back in the dark, being dreamy.
AND THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What is the best book you’ve read in the last few months and how did you choose it?
- Michele Young-Stone’s “A Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors.” (Coming out in April 2010) Her editor sent it to me asking for a blurb.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- If your writing isn’t happening, just dance or paint or play Wii or watch America’s Funniest Home Videos. It’s okay.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- I read magazines backwards, preferring to start at the end and work my way to the front.
Books by Sheri Reynolds:
Thank you for this interview with Sheri. She’s one of my favorite authors. She has such a talent for drawing you deeply into her characters … and she creates excellent characters. I read The Sweet In-Between in April and I’ve never cried for and wanted to fight for any fictional character like I did for Kenny. I can’t wait for Sheri’s next novel.
Oh, and I, too, have always read magazines back to front, so it’s nice to know I’m not the only one with this quirk.
Linda- It makes me feel so good when I discover someone else loves the same books I do. And I agree. Sheri’s characters are wonderful. I wanted The Sweet In-Between to go on and on…
Thank you for the glimpse into your days. I really enjoyed reading The Rapture of Canaan and I plan on picking up more of Sheri’s books.
Kim, one of my favorites is A Gracious Plenty. Thanks for leaving a comment. I hope you’ll be back!
Love this interview – trying to picture my cat as a fetus right now!
Hi Lisa-When I read that Sheri was creating a character who imagines others as fetuses, I thought there is still so much out there that has yet to be imagined. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?
I loved this! Thanks, Cindy–and thanks to Sheri Reynolds for sharing. I can especially picture the hammock with the cat and dog (they can be such good muses) beneath. And what good writing advice–it seems that sitting and staring for hours at a blank screen is rarely more helpful than just letting the mind and body give in to something else.
Hi Peggy-thanks for your comment. I’ve actually found my brain feeling locked up if I sit too long in front of the screen. Then the minute I get in the car or the shower, off it goes…as if it were saying finally you stopped thinking…