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.
April 1, 2015: Katrina Kenison
For years and years, if I heard the name Katrina Kenison, I immediately thought The Best American Short Stories. Katrina became the series editor in 1990–only the fourth editor of a series that began in 1915–and she remained in that position through the 2006 volume. She also worked with John Updike on The Best American Short Stories of the Century.
What is the secret of a good short story? … I expected that a year of reading would result in some answers to that age-old question. Now, nearly two thousand stories later, I am beginning to suspect that it is the question itself that will keep me reading through the years ahead, for each good story offers a unique answer…
Not all the volumes of BASS sit on my shelves, but interestingly the 2006 edition is also here. In this last volume edited by Katrina, she wrote about stories being read around their table after dinner and how that summer a friend had brought a copy of Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River.”
Half an hour later, the final words hanging in the air, we knew that we’d just experienced something lovely and profound–the power of stories to lift us up and out of our everyday lives and deposit us on distant shores, and then to return us, startled, enriched, and changed somehow, to our own familiar surroundings.
She also wrote:
When I became the annual editor of the BASS in 1990, I was the mother of a three-month-old baby… Sixteen years and thousands of stories later, that baby boy is driving and shaving…
Which is a good lead-in to the next phase of her career–writing her own books–a phase that really overlapped her position as editor. In 1999, Katrina published Mitten Strings for God: Reflections for Mothers in a Hurry–a book that grew out of one of those Christmas letters we all get at that time of the year but one which took a different path–instead of describing accomplishments, it described her wish, with two young sons, to slow life down.
In 2009 The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother’s Memoir was published, and the way I discovered this book is that a golfing buddy of my husband’s sent him a video, which he forwarded on to me. I posted the video here: the ordinary day.
I was suddenly haunted by all the things I hadn’t done, the dreams that might never be realized, the sense that the tidy, civilized life we’d worked so hard to create didn’t quite fit the person I really was, or, rather, still thought I might be.
Perhaps, away from some of the expectations they had absorbed since childhood, our sons would in time discover their own best selves. Perhaps we two middle-aged parents would discover ours as well.
It is as if I am, at last, catching a glimpse of myself not as I might wish to be, but as I am.
The next phase of Katrina’s life, an earlier-than-anticipated empty nest, brought Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment, published in 2013.
I’ve poured a thousand bowls of cereal over the last twenty-odd years; these days, the only breakfast I’m expected to make is my own. I grew so accustomed to the daily stampede of feet up and down the stairs that I ceased to hear the noise; now, silence rings in my ears. I bestowed countless hasty good-bye kisses, my attention already elsewhere as I brushed lips to cheeks— only to wake up one morning and realize that all those little good-byes had led, inevitably, to big ones.
Come back on APRIL 1st to read how KATRINA KENISON spends her days.