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 DARRELYN SALOOM:
I awaken to a crash, no doubt the cat. She’s managed to leap onto a tiny bookcase, knock down an antique inkwell, and flee under my bed. Her mission accomplished, I jump up to inspect the heirloom. It’s unbroken but has left a small dent in the soft pine floor where it landed.
Sunshine peeks through bedroom curtains, but the naked floorboards are cold. I slip on a pair of socks, put on the kettle, and comfort my traumatized alarm cat. She follows me onto the back deck where I watch my husband push a wheelbarrow from horse stalls to barn. Then I hear the tractor crank up, and the morning is mine for writing after I walk the dog.
My once-stray pooch has no eyes, but she hears me coming and does a little barn dance. We follow a long fence where Eastern bluebirds are lined up to perform their daily ballet. As we clip toward them, the first bird flutters to the end of the row and poses, then the second virtuoso mirrors the first, and on and on until we venture too close and they fly away.
On the ground, a large shadow rushes past me from overhead, and I know it’s the red-tailed hawk that greets me most mornings. I look up and watch him glide on a current of wind. On the way back to the house, the bluebirds have returned to repeat their choreographed recital. Nature’s rhythms surround me, yet I struggle to find my own.
I’ve studied writer-warrior handbooks to inspire a habitual work routine, but they’ve yet to recruit me. Every time I try to march to their beat, I step on my toes. I’ve outlined work schedules, and then my plan goes awry.
I have a blog deadline and a story to edit for a friend. But as soon as I open a Word document, my mother calls. She is short of breath and dizzy, so I shut down my computer and drive to her townhouse, a short distance from the farm.
My mother’s days are winding down. She knows it. And I know it. So we sit and watch a rerun of Everybody Loves Raymond. Then I fix her a pimento cheese sandwich. She seems to feel better after she eats, but Raymond and Debra are making their wills (the worst possible episode to put her at ease).
So I sit through another Raymond and two Golden Girls. It’s four in the afternoon when I return to the farmhouse. I’m no longer in the mood to write, so I check my e-mail and gasp. I answer the most urgent messages, mosey over to a few favorite blogs, and then share them on Twitter. By the time I finish, the sun is sinking low. So I walk my dog again and snap a picture of the sunset to post on Facebook.
On this day, my time for writing comes late. My husband is tuning a guitar in the loft, so I finish the blog post. Then I open my pal’s Word document, and I’m swept away by his prose. He’s written a true story of meeting a woman who wrote about the Sioux Indians. She advises him not to “play” Indian but to be himself.
Her wisdom settles on me. I realize my friend is no more an Indian than I am a bird or a disciplined writer warrior. I am a writer but also a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother. I work best when I allow the rhythm of my days to ebb and flow.
Today, I danced with my mother. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. At this moment, the horses are asleep in their stalls; the dog has stopped barking in the barn, the cat is snoring at the end of my bed. My husband riffs his guitar. It’s after midnight. And it’s a good time for catching days on the page.
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?
- I sometimes write for Tweetspeak Poetry and have struck up a friendship with the managing editor L.L. Barkat. She asked me to read her debut novella called The Novelist. It’s a lovely story about a woman named Laura who is encouraged to write a novel by a friend on Twitter. Laura begins by typing ‘The End,” which I thought was brilliant. But what surprised me was how much I enjoyed Barkat’s passive voice. Perhaps it’s because I just finished years of work on a boxing memoir. The active voice works well in boxing scenes, so I enjoyed sinking into my pillow as I read Barkat’s rich sentence constructions as she weaved poems into prose and enhanced her narrator’s voice with a proclivity for rule-breaking passive verbs.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Find your rhythm and write as often as you can. But don’t feel guilty if you miss days of writing because you are taking care of loved ones. Writers are always composing in their heads anyway. It doesn’t matter if you sit at a desk at the same time every morning, walk the dog ten times a day, or watch episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond with your mother. Live your life to the fullest. Just keep a notebook handy, especially when you spend time with your mother.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- If reading every day is odd, that would be it. My strangest writing habit is that I don’t have a set work routine. But when time allows, I become obsessed with whatever I’m working on and can stay up most of the night, then wake up early and write in bed until I have to feed the cat and walk the dog. When I fall into writer mode, my husband often has to pry my fingers from the keyboard and force-feed me. When he’s not around, I sustain on cereal, salted cashews, chocolate, and endless cups of hot tea.
By DARRELYN SALOOM: