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 Natalie Serber:
When I’m not teaching, which is the case this fall, I hold office hours in bed—check email, read the NYT, browse websites I enjoy: Brain Pickings, Paris Review, The Millions. I may link something to Facebook or my website. My publisher asked that I create and maintain a ‘social platform’ and so I try to do it in a way that gifts me some joy. (I have a love/hate relationship with social networking. On the one hand, I think it saps me of energy that would be better put to writing. On the other hand, other people’s posts make me laugh, teach me things, and I’ve reconnected with people that matter, people I’d somehow carelessly misplaced from my life. But, I also fall prey to a wallflower state, that is…waiting to be liked and I hate that weakness.) Believe it or not, through all this, I’m still in bed!
This day is a Thursday, and so I have three sections of the NYT to peruse: Arts, Thursday Style, and Home. And, while I lounge, my husband puts himself through rigorous stretches—breathing in loud bursts, swiftly waving his arms around like a semaphore specialist. I too am exercising, exerting brainpower as I attempt the crossword puzzle.
Midmorning I take a long walk with my dogs. Some days I go to a yoga class, but today is too lovely to go indoors—crisp and bright, a true autumn day. I’m a multitasker, so on my walks I usually listen to a novel and take photos of things that catch my eye. Today I’m completely absorbed with “White Teeth,” by Zadie Smith. Ironically, one thing I see on my walk is a cat skull with very prominent yellow teeth. Our neighborhood has been under siege—nighttime coyote raids—and the telephone poles bear far too many lost cat signs. I make a note that perhaps this would be an interesting development for the family in my novel. I also notice a moldering cardboard box and think it’s the hair color of a character, Marjorie. I take a picture so I’ll remember. And then I think, no one ever kisses Marjorie hello or goodbye, and I write that down as well.
Back home, I make an almond butter sandwich and attend to email. I have revision notes for a book review, a request for a radio interview, a request to read a story aloud on another radio show from Pennsylvania, the first fifty pages of a friend’s novel to read for our next workshop-trio meeting, a note from a reader wondering if we are related. I send off the first fifty of my book to the trio. I text my children, both away at college, letting them know I miss them, am thinking of them, “have fun, be safe, work hard, I love you.” And then I pack up to walk to the college library. I wish I had blinders so I wouldn’t see the wilting plants and burgeoning weeds in my front yard. Something must be neglected in my day.
I try to be at the library by noon, and today, I arrive at 12:20. I work most days at this library. I like being around the intense energy of the students. I like being around people the same age as my kids, and it is essential that I have no Internet access. Remember that wallflower syndrome I mentioned? Well, when I momentarily get stuck in the work, it is so easy to escape to Facebook or email. It is also easy to escape to laundry folding, watering or weeding—hence this library sequestering. I spend four hours in the chair, regardless of how the work is going, but today it goes well.
The rest of this day is lovely. I was invited to participate in a commercial for Wordstock, Portland’s literary festival. Frankly, I think I muck up the job of reading the cue cards. In my mind I sound like an exuberant participant at a pep rally. But, I get to sit in the iconic red chair. I also read a passage from a story of mine in the sexiest, breathiest voice, as requested. The last line of the passage reads, “Even Nora had the good sense to know that flirting and parasites were a bad mix.” It’s new and fun. This book of mine, Shout Her Lovely Name, that I poured my heart into, that took so many years, has opened doors and brought great experiences.
My husband and I meet up for a late and simple dinner in our living room. Quesadillas, mixed greens, a glass of wine. We watch The Daily Show and end up back in our bed. (Life is uncomplicated and quiet as empty-nesters.) With a new and excellent book of stories to review, I settle in to read, but only last about ten minutes. It’s ten when I close my eyes. And in the morning, it will all begin again. Hooray!
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?
- Recently I reread two books that I adored when I was in my twenties and just beginning to take myself seriously as a writer. I admired the books because the writing was…yar. Do you remember that term? Katherine Hepburn uses it in The Philadelphia Story. She’s describing a boat, the True Love, “My she was yar,” Katherine says, meaning agile, swift, bright, and in this case, poignant. The books are Foreign Affairs, by Alison Lurie, and the other, Rhoda, A Life in Stories, by Ellen Gilchrist. I reread them because the main characters meant so much to me the first time around and because the sentences are everything a sentence should be, packed with meaning, elegant, leaving a clean knife blade of wake behind them.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Read your work aloud everyday. It makes such an enormous difference to hear the words float into your head via your ears rather than simply having them rattle around in your brain.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- When I sit down to write, I have to noodle around a bit first. I redo my desktop. I know, so weird. I don’t always change the photo, but I spend a bit of time changing the framing color with that magnifying glass thing that lets you pull a color from the image.
By Natalie Serber: