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 Shaindel Beers:
Already, the way I spend my days is changing—during a normal school year, full-time teaching shapes the days. But I’m due to have my baby (Liam Eliot—named after William Shakespeare, William Blake, George Eliot, and T.S. Eliot) on April 23rd.
Today starts with Aeschylus, our black cat. He jumps on my side of the bed to let me know he’s lonely or that the water dish is empty. Because I’m on maternity leave and Jared doesn’t have class until this afternoon, we pet Aeschylus as he lies between us.
Jared says, “I was supposed to put in laundry for you. What time’s your meeting?”
Despite being on leave, I’m co-chairing an arts festival next week. The planning committee meeting is at noon. It will be cutting it close to have dry clothes, but when your partner has taken over all of the housework during your pregnancy, it seems silly to complain. Jared lets the dogs out, runs the laundry downstairs, and I roll from side to side in bed, stretching, hoping my hips or lower back will pop. Mourning doves coo outside.
By the time I’m up, Jared has started coffee. Decaf. We were gone all day yesterday to the nearest city with a mall, buying last-minute baby things, so there are no clean bowls. He brings me a small Tupperware container of raisin bran and milk. I check my morning email and see that there’s a student who needs a letter of recommendation by tomorrow. I’ll do that after my meeting. Another email announces that sadly, but fortunately, the college’s baseball game for the day has been cancelled. I’d promised my students on the team that I’d come to a home game during maternity leave. That would have been today’s game. One of my creative writing students asked if I went into labor when he was pitching, if I’d name my baby after him.
Normally, when my students write, I write. If I’m giving poetry prompts, I write poetry. If I’m giving fiction prompts, I write fiction. It sounds like the advice mothers of newborns get, “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” I try to get the most writing time I can out of summer break as well.
It may not sound like much, but I’ve had more time for writing recently than I did a few years back when I taught at the college five days a week and worked Saturday mornings from 8 to noon as a fitness instructor and Sundays from 9 to 2 as a farm laborer.
I have a naïve hope that Liam will be a good sleeper, and I’ll be able to write when he’s asleep. I know how I spend my days is changing and will continue to change; I’ll just have to be creative to find time to squeeze the writing in.
After the meeting, I head to my office for phone calls and to write the student’s letter of recommendation, which I tape to my door in a sealed envelope with her name on it. I haven’t had time to eat since breakfast; it’s 2 and I’m almost 37 weeks pregnant. I buy an apple juice from the college bookstore and snack on some dried fruit I keep in my desk drawer. I would go straight home, but the car is almost out of gas. After putting $20’s worth in the tank, my cell phone rings. It’s one of the guests for the festival with logistics questions.
I pull into a parking spot in the grocery store connected to the gas station. After the call, I go in and buy soup from the grocery store deli to use in the sourdough bread bowls I got off the bakery discount rack a few days ago. Roasted red pepper crab bisque sounds amazing.
When I get home, Jared is still working on the library remodel. Instead of being normal people who just decorate a nursery, we’ve shuffled the whole house around. Jared’s music room (he’s a singer-guitarist) moved to the basement, what was his music room became my library, and what was the library is becoming the baby’s room.
Last week, he stacked all of my books neatly on the floor, ready to be reshelved. I kept going in and staring at them longingly. Finally, I thought, this is my first time off from teaching in eleven years; I’m reading something I want to read. So, I ran in and grabbed Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country as my first book of maternity leave.
Luckily, Liam will be rooming with us in a co-sleeper (a basinet that attaches to our bed) for the first four to six months, so there’s no rush on getting the nursery done.
Jared heats up a bread bowl for me, heats up the soup, and continues remodeling the library… He says he’ll eat when he’s done.
Time is getting short. Only twenty-four days until my due date. After I write this essay, I’ll sit down and judge the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets Muse Prize. The entries await in a fat manila envelope that arrived in yesterday’s mail. Later, we’ll watch a movie on Netflix or a TV show on Hulu since we don’t own a TV. Despite all of the rushing, life seems simple. It seems good.
- I’m just finishing up Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country that I chose from the stacks on the floor because I just wanted to read it. I’ve taught Mason’s short story “Shiloh” for years and have always felt a kinship with her. Her stories take place in rural Kentucky, and I grew up in rural Indiana, so I always feel like I know her characters—sometimes too well. When I like something I’m reading, I make Facebook posts about it. Here are a few recent ones on Mason:
- Shaindel Beers likes reading Bobbie Ann Mason’s fiction. It’s like spending time with her family, but when she’s had it with them, she can just close the book.
- Another reason to ♥ Bobbie Ann Mason. From her novel In Country: Maybe the universe originated quietly, without fireworks, the way human life started, with two people who were simply having a good time in bed, or in the back seat of a car. Making a baby had nothing to do with love, or anything mystical, or what they said in church. It was just fucking.
- Another favorite is: “’That explains it, then,’ Sam said disgustedly. ‘That’s what you were doing in Vietnam. That explains what the whole country was doing over there. The least little threat and America’s got to put on its cowboy boots and stomp around and show somebody a thing or two.’”
2.Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Write what you want to write, the way you want to write it. Write for yourself first. I had a horribly weird dream a few nights ago. (Pregnancy hormones give you weird dreams. Who knew?) In it, I was teaching a fiction writing class, and I had nursing students in it, and I overheard one of them say something like, “I wanted to write such-and-such, but I didn’t know if it would be safe for work.” And in my dream, I snapped and said, “Safe for work? Fuck. That. We’re going to get past all of everyone’s silly little inhibitions right now.” Then I discovered there was a business class sharing the same classroom, and they looked horrified over the exchange, but that’s pretty much how I feel.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- When I’m on breaks, I like to get into a read-sleep-write cycle. I read until my mind’s a little fuzzy and tired, and then I take a nap. When I wake up, I write my own material. I don’t know how strange that is. The other one would be that I write really well in prisons. What I mean by that is when I teach a workshop in a prison, every time I give a prompt, something amazing comes out of it. It might be that I feel comfortable because it’s a huge white room with an old-old conference table, and we all sit around it and there’s all of this writing energy. It could be that everyone is really excited to be there, since you have to be on good behavior for so long to get into a prison writing workshop. So, when the inmates are there, they’re ready to write. It could be that it’s always a group of guys, and I feel like I have about fifteen brothers hanging out with me. I’m not sure. It’s just always a comfortable place for me, and I produce good work there. I’ll have to teach at a women’s prison sometime and see if I have the same feelings and results.
By Shaindel Beers: