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 CARMELA CIURARU.
If you have a dog or a child, you are forced to leave your bed each morning sooner than you’d like. I have both, which means that crawling back into bed isn’t an option. One needs to get to school and the other needs a long walk in the park. I’m always up by 7am, even on weekends.
I’m grateful for these reasons to wake up (though sometimes, I must admit, not in the moment). They give structure to my day. When there isn’t enough time left for writing, I make up for it by working late into the night, as I did yesterday.
I’m lucky to live near a 500-acre park in Brooklyn. In the mornings I take my dog there, and (along with taking my son to school, or picking him up) it’s my favorite daily habit.
Once we’re in the park, no matter what is happening in my life, I’m happy and calm. Watching him bound off-leash across a field, or swim in the park’s “dog beach” (a designated pond), or romp with other dogs, never ceases to delight me. We’re usually there for an hour. It’s an hour that I’m not writing, but it’s useful. I don’t have to deal with email, my mind is clear, and I’m thinking about the day ahead: projects to be tackled, prioritizing tasks, how to proceed with the book I’m writing. Or I might be brainstorming future projects. Maybe I’ll never actually do them, but there’s something energizing about turning over ideas in my head.
While working on a book, as I am now, one aspect of the process is problem-solving. I find that I can accomplish some of that while walking through the park, away from the computer. I might be thinking about a section that’s bothering me or a transition I’m struggling with. Often, by the time I get home, things start to click: I’ve figured out a solution, or at least a possibility to explore.
When my dog was a puppy, I used to enjoy standing around in the park, socializing with friends while he played with his pals. I won’t do that now. If I see someone I know, I’ll keep the conversation brief or just avoid people by taking him onto a path in the woods. (I also do that because in the less populated areas, I tend to see something unexpected–a chipmunk, a rabbit, a beautiful bird.) I don’t feel like talking to anyone in the mornings. I just want to enjoy being with my dog and get focused for the day ahead.
Once I’m back in my apartment, I have to kick off my work day by first having breakfast and reading the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. I do this every day. And I drink a glass or two of iced tea with breakfast. Maybe a third glass, depending on my level of sleep deprivation the night before. Then I’m ready to begin, usually around 9am.
Isolation is essential for writing, of course, but too much of it can be harmful. So I’ll attend a publishing luncheon occasionally, or meet a friend for lunch or coffee, just to break up the work day a bit. If I have a week in which I’ve scheduled too much socializing, though, I feel guilty being out and not working. But depending on whom I see for lunch, I might have the chance to talk through an issue about my book. No matter what, it’s good to get out in the middle of the day when I can.
Because I live in New York City, and tend to take the subway everywhere, there’s always time to read on the train, whether for work or just for myself. I despise e-books–even the term itself seems horribly wrong–so I’m always carrying an actual book or two in my bag.
When I’m working, I have to guard against berating myself too much. On the day I’m writing this essay–a cool, sunny afternoon in September–I’ve been thinking about what is useful for my work, what feeds my mind, inspires me, consoles me, puts me in the right state to be productive. I realized that I should commit to seeking out those things and eliminate all the rest. Easier said than done. But dealing with some health issues this year reinforced how precious time is, how easily it slips away.
This morning, after dropping off my son at school, I went to a nearby art museum. Then I forced myself into doing a rather difficult exercise class, and then rushed back home to work. Even though I could have been sitting at my computer that whole time, I think I’ll work more efficiently this afternoon, having seen beautiful paintings and gone to a gym. The “lost” work hours were well spent. Now I’m very close to finishing a chapter of my book–or a draft, anyway–so I’m feeling excited about what comes next.
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?
Lorrie Moore’s Birds of America, which I’d read when it first came out in 1998 but hadn’t picked up since. I love her sentences, her characters, everything. I also loved The Automobile Club of Egypt, by Alaa Al Aswany.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- Be patient with yourself, but not too patient.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
We have a big apartment–I’ve got my own office, a nice view, a desk I love, and a beautiful Eames chair I treated myself to a few years ago. Yet most often I can be found sitting on the living room floor as I write. I have a desktop computer, but I prefer to spread out on the floor with my laptop, my books, a cup of tea, etc. Even when I’m in my office, I tend to work on the rug. I don’t know why. Almost always, my dog is right next to me.
By Carmela Ciuraru
—Other Writers in the Series—
I absolutely loved this essay/interview!
I, too, have kiddos that need me, and so working the writing around them is hard, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
And I am glad to hear about another good book with great sentences – the title wouldn’t woo me, but this author’s recommendation has. I’ve connected to her bookshelf, the carrying of one or two books at all times, and the avoiding people on walks, so I can trust what books she suggests!
I’m so glad, Adrienne! Thanks for reading. I made the same connections with Carmela that you did, and I think you will love Birds of America.
What an enjoyable sharing of Carmela’s day… And I echo much of what Adrienne wrote – one reason I love this series of Cynthia’s is because of these moments of connection with the writers over similar inclinations & habits. (Along with the inspiration that comes from new insights & differences.) The need for books with real pages that turn is one thing we have in common…there’s nothing like the weight of a book in the hands, and the act of making your way through it in a physical way…
And thanks for the book recommendation – I am also off in search of a copy of Birds of America and its noteworthy sentences & characters.
Lisa, I always enjoy reading your comments on the posts in this series. And I agree about the endless fascination of our daily routines and all the little idiosyncrasies. I was just writing about this yesterday, about a book that was all about this. You might enjoy the book: http://catchingdays.cynthianewberrymartin.com/2015/10/05/daily-rituals-266365/. It’s great to hear from you.
A good reminder that “lost” work hours may be well spent. Also loved: “Be patient with yourself, but not too patient.”
Me too on the “not too patient”–thanks for stopping by, Jodi!