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 Claire Vaye Watkins:
Today is a day in transit. This morning I left Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I spent the holiday with one of my sisters and her family. I’m bound for Manchester, New Hampshire, where I’ll reunite with my fiancé and his family. I write this during a three-hour layover in Atlanta.
I hate traveling. I’m not much for new experiences. In the past three weeks I’ve been in New York, Palm Springs, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, and Albuquerque. I’ll be in New Hampshire then Boston before I head home to Bedford Falls, Pennsylvania.
Here in Atlanta I’m feeling homesick and upheaved, though it’s difficult to attribute those feelings to the travel because homesick and upheaved are fairly regular conditions for me. I once heard Jon Ronson describe himself as the very opposite of a psychopath, as though there was someone behind his face with a tazer. Today is one of the days I feel like this–like an exposed nerve, jolted by anything that sways my way. Yesterday I was like this, too. Yesterday I wept ridiculously at an NPR story about a suicide hotline for veterans, another about three joeys born at the Albuquerque Zoo, and a pop song.
All this is perhaps to say that I’m feeling a little raw, and perhaps a little surly, and I might ignore the assignment. So far nothing has made my life seem so instantaneously mundane as trying to recount a day’s adventures for others’ eyes. Aside from some youthful experimentation with MySpace, I’ve never written a blog entry. I am a writer, though, and some things I’ve written have appeared on the internet. That experience has been sometimes thrilling, mostly sad and gross. Though I am what they call a millennial, I don’t quite understand the genre.
The assignment is to write about one day in my life. Always a good student, I’ve read many other posts in this series. I can’t ignore the feeling of envy that comes over me when I do: those writers seem able to make meaningful the tedium of their day. Or if not this then at least they have good attitudes about what a life is. Me, I can’t help but feel my day is full of stuff you don’t want to know about—oversleeping, time wasting, responsibility shirking, self-doubt, insensitivity, and sloth. All my failings unfurl in miniature during any given day, and it seems vastly solipsistic to share those with anyone except the people I already share them with, the people who are Claire-adjacent, who like and even love me and therefore forgive me these failings.
So if I don’t want to share my day, why did I agree to write this post? Maybe I shouldn’t have. I’m not good at writing under a solicitation, as a handful of disappointed editors can attest. I agreed to write this post because it is my policy to help anyone spread the word about my book, which unlike my life I do very much want to share with strangers. But I ought to be more honest here: there’s something beyond the obligation to help Battleborn find readers. I think the real reason I agreed to this post is because I’ve spent the last ten or so years hoping and dreaming that someone might care about my work, and care what I have to say about it. Submerged even deeper, in my privatemost pipe dreams, was the fantasy that someone might ask me how I spend my day. Oh, the adorable trivia! Oh, the quirky habits! Oh, the idiosyncrasy! But—lo and behold!—the moment I was invited that secret fantasy became burden. This is my special alchemy.
So since I was asked, this is how I spend my days: dreading doing the things I once dreamed about doing—Q&As, blog posts, interviews, readings, campus visits. There is the dread, then there is a type of laughable disappointment in myself, for being unable to muster some enthusiasm for my dream life. These, alongside homesickness and upheaval, are the prevailing sentiments in my inner life these days. Intellectually, I understand that I’m lucky to have these obligations (which, I should say, are relatively miniscule even in the sleepy world of literary short fiction). I am not owed reviews or interviews or year-end lists or prizes or invitations to write a blog post. I am not due readers. I know this. I ought to conduct myself with some grace. This is another way I spend my days: groping for grace against my lesser impulses. Reminding myself that despite my cranky disposition, my life is tremendously charmed, and that I have every reason to be happy.
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?
- Every Christmas my fiancé gives me a book by Louise Erdrich, and this year he gave me The Round House. Erdrich is probably my favorite living writer. Earlier this year, I got to go to the National Book Awards, where I saw her win the NBA for fiction.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- The best piece of advice I got recently came from the writer Michael Kardos: “Writing isn’t hard. Working in a mine is hard.” This is a good reminder not to fetishize our struggles.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- As a reader I quit more books than anyone I know. In grad school my chums and I once sat around a table drinking beers and calculated how staggeringly few books we’ll have time to read in our lifetimes. It’s not a lot. So I feel absolutely no guilt about tossing aside a book that isn’t doing it for me.
By Claire Vaye Watkins:
And the award for “Most Honest” goes to Claire Vaye Watkins…which is what makes this one of my all-time favorite posts.
Best show-don’t-tell line: “Yesterday I wept ridiculously at an NPR story about a suicide hotline for veterans, another about three joeys born at the Albuquerque Zoo, and a pop song.”
Best line of rhythmic prose: “Yesterday I wept ridiculously at an NPR story about a suicide hotline for veterans, another about three joeys born at the Albuquerque Zoo, and a pop song.”
Best: Tell it like it is line: “So far nothing has made my life seem so instantaneously mundane as trying to recount a day’s adventures for others’ eyes.”
Most like my life line: “There is the dread, then there is a type of laughable disappointment in myself, for being unable to muster some enthusiasm for my dream life.”
Best love story: Fiance gives her an Erdrich book every year for Christmas. (Heart pounds.)
Best quote: “This is another way I spend my days: groping for grace against my lesser impulses.”
And, a question: How exactly, then, would a miner grope for grace?
“This is another way I spend my days: groping for grace against my lesser impulses.” I like that. Thanks for the image.
Do you know the song, “Killing Me Softly?” “Strumming my pain with her fingers; singing my life with her words…” I so strongly identified with what you expressed, it leapt immediately to mind.
“So far nothing has made my life seem so instantaneously mundane as trying to recount a day’s adventures for others’ eyes. . .” Refer to above.
“Me, I can’t help but feel my day is full of stuff you don’t want to know about—oversleeping, time wasting, responsibility shirking, self-doubt, insensitivity, and sloth. All my failings unfurl in miniature during any given day,” I wish this didn’t sound exactly like me, but it does.
I guess I’m not alone in this weird, writing existence.
Brilliant and amazingly well-written post. Thank you.
For once, I am thankful for a three-hour layover in Atlanta.
I’ve just finished Battleborn. I loved it, too much to explain in a comment. It’s still by my bed, wedged between A.S Byatt, Amos Oz and Sophie Calle. This piece made me giggle. Thanks. Bonne année, Susanna.
I admire and am encouraged by your honesty. And having read and loved The Round House, know you are in for a treat.
I really love that phrase “Claire-adjacent” and your straight-talking style here. Great post.
Just now, though, I’m taking issue with Kardos’ advice. While it’s important not to get too self-glorifying about the difficulty of any one task, writing IS hard. Growing up on a farm, I understand some of the difficulty of physical labor vs. intellectual labor. It takes both. We can underestimate the value of unseen (inside, mental) effort–the kind that is fueled by emotion and spinach and sometimes doesn’t manifest for days and days or years. Think of the drafting process. I’d much rather plant corn or weed beans. And have. Than sit down and figure out some way to articulate what I’ve learned about myself in a way that others might benefit from it.
Thanks for the Annie Dillard quote too. A great reminder that it’s always now that we act, not in some faroff future place.
Jodi and Richard beat me to it…The honesty here is powerful and much appreciated. Loved the part about feeling envy at writers making something out of the day’s tedium.
Thanks for reading, everybody. You make a great point, Amy, but I still think we ought to remember that the very difficulty of writing is a gift. Not to sound too much like my yoga teacher here, but the fact that I have time and capacity to sit and ask myself those difficult questions is a blessing. Not all struggle is pain, yeah?
It has all been said in either the post or in the comments about the post. How I spend my days from this moment on will not be quite the same, and for that, I am grateful. Now, off to read Battleborn; what a way to begin another year.
Like most who have commented, it’s the honesty of this piece that caught me off guard and helped me connect with it. Very nicely done. I especially appreciated your honesty about abandoning books. Let us hope we spend our days building Karma, that Karma is real, and we come back as speed readers to catch up on the frustrating stack of enticing books we never got to. Good Lord, looks as if I’m off to buy yet another book. Can’t resist after reading this.
Thanks to all of you for taking the time to leave such thoughtful comments. Here’s to a happy 2013 full of good reading and writing!