In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard wrote,
I have been looking into schedules. Even when we read physics, we inquire of each least particle, What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.
On the first of each month, a guest writer shares how he or she spends the day.
June 1, 2014: Roxana Robinson
I’ve been reading books by Roxana Robinson since 1996–June of 1996 to be exact. So I’m excited to announce Roxana as the writer in the series for June of 2014. The first book of hers I read was Asking for Love, a collection of fifteen stories, of which I starred over half, with the last story, “King of the Sky,” receiving two stars.
This past October, I had the pleasure of meeting Roxana at the Brattleboro Literary Festival, where she won the Literary Death Match–beating Pam Houston in the final round! In addition to that honor, she is the author of five novels, three collections, and one book of nonfiction.
Her most recent novel, Sparta, published last year by Sarah Crichton Books, tells the story of Conrad Farrell, who, out of the blue, enlists in the Marines. During a weekend home from Williams, his junior year, Conrad, a classics major, tells his parents his news.
So, I want to do something big. I don’t want to just go into some graduate school and get another degree. I want to so something that has consequences. This is the biggest challenge I know. I want to see if I can do it.
His mother struggles to make sense of his decision.
She tried to sound supportive and interested instead of appalled and frightened… Their family was bookish and liberal, not martial and authoritarian.
Conrad describes his decision as a kind of continuum of his studies.
The classical writers love war, that’s their main subject. Being a soldier was the whole deal, the central experience. That’s what first got me interested. Sparta. The Peloponnesian War, the Illiad. Thucydides. Homer, Tacitus. I wanted to see what it was like.
The book begins beautifully, with Conrad in transition, on a plane–a floating bridge–about to land in the States after his four years of service are over.
What came into his mind was the place he had left, which was still there. He was here, descending over this place, cool, errant, silent. The place he had left, which was still there, was arid, brown, deafening. Suffocatingly hot, heat pressed over it like a mattress. At this moment, while he was here, that place was there. But he could not hold both places in his mind at once. Trying to do so felt risky.
Conrad describes how he feels after his four years in Iraq, and the words he uses show how, despite his body having left the war zone, his head is still there.
The thing was that he was tired of himself, tired of his thoughts, tired of the anxiety that permeated his brain like a bad smell. Being inside his head, just thinking at all, just being conscious, was like walking across a minefield. At ay minute something might detonate, hurling him into someplace where he didn’t want to be. He was sick of it. There was nowhere to go.
I want to tell you about Conrad’s girlfriend, Claire, who took a classics course because the Illiad was “so major.” I feel like I have to know it. I need it in my head. I want to tell you how Conrad describes fear, about his breathing, why it’s important to write letters–real letters–to people you know who are far away. How at every turn, despite the world of the novel being big enough, Roxana opens it up wider. So many things, I want to tell you about this book. And I haven’t even gotten to the story.
So read Sparta. And,
Come back on JUNE 1st to read how ROXANA ROBINSON spends her days.