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 MARY MILLER.
As soon as the dog hears me stir, she comes into my room and wants to get in bed with me. I’m not ready so I stick a hand out for her to lick. When I move over, she jumps up. She’ll let me pet her for as long as my hand keeps moving, but she only likes to cuddle in the morning. If I try to get her on the bed later in the day, she will do so begrudgingly and act uncomfortable about it the whole time.
After coffee, after updating my online classes for the week, I put her in the car and drive a mile to the beach. The beach isn’t dog friendly so either we walk the sidewalk a couple of miles before turning back, or if I’m feeling lazy, we walk around the parking lot and up and down the pier.
It is a parking lot day.
She finds a bunch of spilled crab claws, so red and pretty, and gobbles them up as fast as she can. She was a street dog before I took her in so I like to give her a few seconds to eat as much delicious parking lot trash as possible. She’s simply flexing her muscles of self-preservation. Also, I have her on diet food and feel guilty about it.
Once she found a T-bone and was so thrilled that I sat on the curb and waited.
With no one in sight, I let her off the leash, but a man with a fishing pole appears and she trots over to say hello. He gives me a look like he wants me to die. The angry and homeless are out today. As usual, there are a number of people who park their cars and trucks and then don’t get out of them. What are they doing in there? I avoid eye contact, which would be horrible, like looking at someone through the slats of a bathroom stall.
I leave her in the car with the windows rolled down while I run into Rouses to pick up milk and coffee. I consider buying a King Cake because they’re seasonal, and I like seasonal things. The smell fills the store. I feel preemptively sad that it won’t be here the next time I come in. I remember other things I need and wander the aisles all the while thinking about people who leave their children in the car and how they’re prosecuted and go to prison even though it’s only sixty degrees out and it’s only for a few minutes.
Back in the car, I record a video of the dog hanging out the window as Chamillionaire’s “Ridin Dirty” plays. I record a number of these videos, and they make me ridiculously happy. I’ll watch them over and over again throughout the day, and each time I’ll be as happy as I was the first.
I do some editing and consider what time I want to go to the gym. It’s tricky because I like to get it over with by two o’clock, but there’s the issue of cable TV to consider. Do I want to watch Sean Spicer on three televisions at once and be confronted with the horror that is this administration? Will something good be on the Food Network? I hate The Pioneer Woman and Tricia Yearwood, both of whom are aggressively cheerful yet dull.
The hot gym guy: not here. The hot gym guy: I am certain he also loves me but can’t approach me, and so we will forever love each other from afar.
Spicer is infuriating, an overgrown child, but there are little bursts of joy whenever he stumbles over his words and mispronounces things.
As I get off the elliptical to use the bathroom at two miles in, I manage to snap one of the earbuds clean off the set, the little wire visible. I touch the pieces together as if they might fuse before throwing them away.
Back at home, I fix a sandwich and turn on American Crime Story: The People v. O. J. Simpson, which has taught me many things. Malcolm-Jamal Warner is a terrible actor, the worst. David Schwimmer does an excellent job of looking stunned, which is basically all that he is capable of. It is hard to be a woman, particularly one with power, particularly one with power working in a male-dominated field. But these are the things I have accepted, the things I already know. It is harder to confront the fact of how easily people are swayed by a catchphrase, especially if it rhymes or they can wear it on a hat, and how they always prefer a good story to the truth.
More editing. A phone call with my mother. Texts to and from a man. A text from my mother with a picture of an envelope: Is this important? Thumbs up, smiley face.
While I check in on my students and answer emails, a boy in the complex plays basketball in the parking lot by himself.
At five o’clock, he’s been playing for two hours. There’s not a court so he dribbles and shoots the ball into an imaginary hoop. He’s practicing to make the team or he’s terribly lonely or both, and I don’t want to begrudge him his bouncing. Apparently no one else does either, as he’s been doing it every day for weeks.
Hours later, I’m still editing, faster and faster, my hands tired. I stop to watch my dog’s paws dig into the carpet, her breath coming in spurts. She is running in a dream. Maybe she’ll do that wonderful yipping thing that I love so much. But then she’s quiet and her paws stop moving; one eye opens.
Rain is coming. I watch it approach on my phone, lightning strikes fifteen miles to the north. I put on my jeans and flip flops, take her out one last time.
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 loved Ottessa Moshfegh’s story collection, Homesick for Another World, which came out a week after mine. I saw her read in Austin the night before my own reading, which was sort of a mistake, because she had a large and enthusiastic crowd and the booksellers were falling all over themselves to flatter her—they even gave away a copy! Her collection is excellent, though—morbid and inventive, the prose simple yet revelatory. Simple yet revelatory is my aesthetic, if I had to pin it down.
2. Would you give us one little piece of writing advice?
Write. That’s it. What writers struggle with most is not writing. We love to talk about it, though, how hard it is and how we don’t know what we’re doing or where a story is going, how this one guy got a million dollar advance and bought a nice house, how unfair it all is, etc., etc.
3. What is your strangest reading or writing habit?
- I do most everything from bed. Is this strange?
By Mary Miller:
I like to think that every writer has a dog companion who urges her person out of the house, urges insight about the strangers met along the path. That’s because I am a dog person and the only reason I leave my house every day is for the dog. I’ve read a lot of good publicity about Mary Miller’s new story collection. Look forward to reading.
I love the collection, Jodi. Although I can’t say the same for dogs : ( Thanks for reading and leaving a comment–nice to see you here. xo
Oh, what fun, as always. I am a cat person, but I am IN LOVE with the picture of that sweet little trash-eating dog! And I know all about feeling guilty re buying your beloved furbabe diet food, I had to do that for years with my former-street-cat Maria, an adorable, scrappy, no-pet-but-me-me-me, gray tuxedo who would eat anything she could get to, if not aggressively stopped. Oh, the whining! Oh, the sad face!
Your description of “morbid and inventive” is enough to make me want to read that collection, as well as your own, so thanks for that. And no, there is nothing wrong with working from bed, I do an awful lot of my writing scrunched up under the covers, as well, one of my cats snuggling into my shoulder or competing with the computer screen. It’s just so damn comfortable.
Best wishes with all your work. Anyone who can edit for many hours a day and whose specific advice is just “write” deserves an award in my book!
Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Claire! Love your compact visual: “that sweet little trash-eating dog”