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 MYFANWY COLLINS.
I am awake even though my alarm is set for 6:00. It’s a school day, and my son is sleeping still. I go downstairs, turn the heat up to sixty-five from sixty. The small house warms quickly. This is the third house we’ve lived in in the past year. First it was a temporary–or winter rental, as it’s called–on the nearby barrier island. That house was even smaller than this one (seven hundred square feet) and had no washer and drier. So I needed to go to the laundromat for cleaning our clothes.
While I was at the laundry, sometimes women would come in to wash something in the heavy-duty machine, making a point of telling me it was because their washing machine had broken down. They did not want me to think that they were like me. That this was their only way of washing clothes. My son and I would shrug at them, smile, and continue filling in Mad Libs. The first year of separation and divorce marks you. People either shy away or bombard you with personal and painfully inappropriate questions. They are desperate for it not to happen to them.
As fall set in and then winter in that small, temporary house, we were overrun by mice. The landlord told me to put traps out, which I did. He said that that should do the trick. I will spare you the gruesome stories of the traps.
There were many dark nights of the soul.
But we loved the house. It had a fun loft space and a rooftop deck. We could see both sunrise and sunset. The ocean was steps away. The marsh. My desk was in the kitchen.
We moved into another space in May, and then I found this current home in August and moved in one furious and exhausting week. This place feels like home. It is 906 square feet and fits us perfectly. Last week I bought a couch and two cozy blankets that we huddle under when it gets chilly. The dog has a yard.
The dog. It’s time for me to let him out. He zips out quickly, does his business, and gives one low bark at the door so I know to let him in. He eats his meal and then goes back to his bed.
By this time, my coffee that I set up last night is brewing. I get as much done the night before as possible. Lunches and snacks made and packed in the fridge. Clothes laid out. Shoes by the door.
I put a load of laundry in the machine, and I have my son’s lunch and snack packed into his backpack. I write a note for him about what his after-school schedule is (whether he is with me or his dad or whether or not he has an activity) and one for his teacher letting her know the same. This is how we have managed our time in the past year. Life used to be much easier for us all, but we have adjusted in this new world as one does. Sink or swim. We swim.
I wake my son. The dog licks his face furiously until we get him to stop. I make breakfast, which is usually a croissant with some Nutella on the side and a bowl of fresh fruit. He watches a youtube video while he eats, and I take thirty minutes to run on the treadmill. By the time my run is done, the wash is finished, and so I switch it to the drier and put in another load.
I make the beds, clean the breakfast dishes, and get ready for work. My son finishes his homework, practices drums, and gets dressed.
We are out the door. I drop my son at school and am at my work desk by 8:30. I work in a software company now. In an office. With actual people around me all day long and not just people living inside my head.
Between 8:30 and 5:00, I work, taking a break around noon to go home and let the dog out. As I work, I spend time thinking about what I want to write later on. It took me a while to adjust to working in an office. I used to work from home and before that I was a stay-at-home mother who worked part time, teaching or editing or whatever jobs I could find to bring in extra money. I wrote a lot, whenever I could. I had so much time, even though I often felt rushed.
Now my time is precious and carefully managed. When I write, I write in bursts. I write in hundreds of words. A thousand words in thirty minutes. I write and I write. I’m working on a project that I have been thinking about for two years.
Last year I was filled with too much pain and fear to be able to write the way I wanted to. I held back from being vulnerable either on the page or off it because my life was being stripped down to the bone. When I wrote, I wrote about how I went to the dump with my trash these days instead of having someone pick it up. I wrote about the mice, their shit everywhere. I wrote about my poverty, my fear. I wrote about my grief. I was vulnerable because I knew I was writing for myself alone. What I wrote on those pages is for me alone, a reminder of who I had been and who I was becoming.
I pick up my son from his after-school program, and we come home. On Wednesdays we have to rush to his drum lesson and then don’t get home until after 6:00, but today is not Wednesday. Instead we come home, take care of the dog, empty the backpack, check on homework, and make dinner.
After dinner I wash the dishes and make the next day’s lunch and snack.
We spend time together, doing his homework and watching television or just talking. I usually fold laundry at the same time. At some point he will take a shower if he didn’t have one the day before.
My son is in bed reading to himself. In a little while I will read aloud to him. We are currently reading the Mysterious Benedict Society, which we love. I find a great deal of joy sharing books with him. I know at some point he might feel he is too old to be read to at night, and so I cling to this ritual until that day.
After reading, we say our gratefuls. This is our form of prayer. A moment to quietly offer up to the universe what we are grateful for that day. After that I lie next to my son until he falls asleep.
He is asleep by nine.
I go downstairs and let the dog out for his final pee of the night.
This is my time to write if I choose to. Sometimes I do write. In my office or I bring my laptop into bed with me (as I have now). But often I am too exhausted to think straight, and so I watch television or read. I’m half-way through the final Neapolitan novel and dreading its end. How will I make it without them?
The past few weeks have been not much about reading or writing, though. The last gasp of the election season had me furiously switching between news stations and scanning the internet for a ray of hope.
Now, I am enraged and grief-stricken, which reinvigorates my desire to give voice to the voiceless. Now more than ever, I want to write.
As I write, I’m surprised by how quickly time passes. I think five minutes have gone by but thirty minutes have passed.
Now is the time. I am in my bed. I write.
When I open my draw to get a Benadryl to help me sleep–that’s his cue–my dog jumps off the bed and leaves my room. I shut off the light and listen as he clacks down the stairs. He never sleeps upstairs with us. It’s his job to guard the house. Or so he believes.
I lie here thinking about time passing. I realized recently that I am now a few months older than my father was when he died. Tomorrow will be filled again with routine and some surprises.
My vulnerability has blossomed once more, a bruise on my soul, and every day, I will return home to the page. Time will not wait for you, I tell myself. Write it out. Do it now.
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 have been reading the Neapolitan novels for the past year. I am on the final one. I chose them reluctantly. Everyone was loving them, and so I thought I would probably hate them. I was so wrong. I am completely in love with these people and do not want to let them go.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
- The only advice I ever give about writing is that you cannot write your best work unless you are willing to be vulnerable.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- Habits, in general, are strange. So I guess all of them are. If I had to pinpoint one, it would be constantly checking my word count. It still feels like a luxury to be able to do so, as I began writing when my only option was to write things long hand and then type up a finished copy. What a pain in the ass that was.
By Myfanwy Collins: