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 SOPHFRONIA SCOTT.
When I awaken from my dreams, it feels as though I’ve been on a journey. The alarm on my phone goes off at 5:30, and I spend the first few minutes lying there thinking about where I was in that netherworld and whether the images have meaning or are just my brain clearing the previous day’s clutter. I will write down the meaningful when I get to my desk. The rest I will forget, allowing my mind to discard.
My husband Darryl rose twenty minutes earlier. I hear him in the bathroom brushing his teeth. He emerges already showered and dressed. He’s a band director at a public middle school about twenty minutes away. He likes to leave the house early, enjoy breakfast at a diner before his first class. By the time I come downstairs, he is on the road.
Tain, my son and an eighth grader, doesn’t rise for another forty minutes so I don’t have to be up this early either but really, I do. I go into my office not to write but to sit on the floor on cushions in front of a small altar. I light a stick of incense and a small candle and wonder where this time of prayer and meditation will take me today. My modes have changed over the years. Recently I’ve begun using a book called Disciplines for the Inner Life, a spiritual practice guide that the author Will Blythe, in his loving memorial for the late author Denis Johnson, said Johnson had given to him 25 years ago and it remains by Blythe’s bedside. Johnson had inscribed it with “‘Hunger is my native place in the land of passions.’ Food for the road — Denis.” I bought a copy immediately. It seemed like an offering of a seat at a spiritual table even if the writer doing the offering is no longer here.
When I’m done, I go into the kitchen and turn on the electric kettle to boil water for my first cup of tea, and I set up my phone to stream live ESPN’s Mike & Mike show. While I’m listening to an analysis of the week’s NFL games, I hear Tain stirring upstairs. I used to wake him myself, but this school year we’ve started a new routine because he’s older. He sets his own alarm for 6:10, and he showers and dresses before he comes downstairs. Note: his bus doesn’t arrive until 7:25. I guess no one in our family likes to be rushed. We give ourselves plenty of time to ease into the day.
I turn on the stove to start his breakfast and place the ingredients for a smoothie—pineapple juice, yogurt, banana, frozen blueberries and strawberries—in the blender. I’ll mix it when he’s downstairs. I go to the basement and retrieve pouches of frozen chicken thighs from the freezer. I once read somewhere that as long as you take meat out before 10am it will thaw by dinnertime. I try to remember this, but on days when I’m not successful, we eat pasta or quiche and salad or order out for pizza.
When Tain breezes into the kitchen these days with his “Good morning Mama!” it’s always a tiny shock to my system. He is confident, getting taller, no longer the little boy I carried downstairs every morning even when his long legs trailed down to my own. I told my husband I would carry Tain as much as I could because there would come a day when I could no longer lift him. That day has come and gone.
We sit at the table and while he eats, I drink my tea and we talk about plans for the day. His shoes are worn, I’m expecting a hole to burst forth soon and indeed he tells me his big toes are out of room. Maybe we can get to the store later, when he gets home. After breakfast, he watches SpongeBob Squarepants while I sit across from him in our window seat, keeping an eye down the street.
“Bus!” I say when I see the red lights blinking. Tain pops up, grabs his backpack, and we say our goodbyes and I love yous. I watch him make his way down the driveway. It’s a sweet moment when the bus has pulled away and the house is quiet again.
I put on my sneakers. Usually I exercise in a spare bedroom upstairs, doing yoga or one of the many P90X workout DVDs we own. But it’s a beautiful morning, and a warm one. I want to be outside. I don’t feel like jogging though. I want to walk and savor. I want to think.
Walks like this I consider writing time because when I walk I usually think about what I’m writing and sentences rise to the surface. Our neighborhood was built years ago by cutting into a forest, but the developer left a lot of the forest intact so the hilly streets feel more like roads in a park. The scent of wild grapes, cascading down from trees on long vines, teases my nose with a sweet brightness. Sunbeams pierce the trees.
When I return home, I boil an egg to eat with a croissant and the remainder of the smoothie I made for Tain. I go into my office to make notes about what came up as I was walking. If this were a day with my writing partner, David Hicks, I would at this point shower and make myself presentable. We write together, two to three times a week, meeting via Google Hangout because he lives in Colorado. We say our hellos, talk about what we’re working on that day, then sit writing, keeping each other on the screen. It’s like sharing an office. We’ve been writing this way for four years. It’s a celebration year for us because his debut novel, White Plains, was published in May and now my novel is coming out—our long stretches of work coming to fruition.
But this morning David is teaching, and I’m on my own. So I don’t shower right away. Instead I sit down to my computer and tend to my social media. I have to be careful with how much time I spend on it these days because I’m posting a lot leading up to the novel’s release and I want to respond to all the messages and comments. It could easily take up the whole morning. Fortunately I still have the clock in my head from my days as journalist when work started at ten am. That’s when I begin writing.
I’m not writing what I’m supposed to be writing. I’m writing about a statue that has captured my imagination. It’s a sculpture by Elden C. Tefft, called Moses. I saw it on a visit earlier this month to the University of Kansas. It’s bronze and looks like a combination of King Arthur and an Eastern sage. He faces a stained glass image of a burning bush. I couldn’t stop looking at it. My blog is a space where I can post my fascinations—what I find amazing and smart—and I want to write about him so that’s what I’m doing.
About two hours later, I hear the hum and rumble of the mailman’s truck rolling up our street. It’s my cue to get up. I can be really focused in my work, but the downside to that is I can sit too long, sometimes forgetting to eat. So when the mail comes I take the chance to take a little walk down the driveway to our mailbox. It’s all junk, and the mailman even apologizes for it.
Back in the kitchen I make another cup of tea and spread ham salad between halves of a sliced croissant for a quick lunch. When I sit down to work again, I check my email.
There’s a note from Katherine, who handles marketing for my novel, asking to post this week one of the essays I’m writing for it. I don’t mind marketing, but it does keep me tethered to a project I finished over a year ago, and I am moving forward. I have a new novel in progress I’d hoped to work on today, but now even Moses will have to be completed another time. At least I’ve got him going.
I open the essay and work on it. I keep going into the afternoon even though that’s when I usually stop writing. I like to preserve the afternoons for paying bills, running errands, or preparing for classes I’m teaching. On this day, I finally stop when I realize I should take that shower I put off earlier.
Tain’s bus arrives. I tell him he can hang out for about an hour before we head out for his shoes. He grabs a snack and we talk about his day. But before the hour is up, I get a ping on my phone. I recognize the name. She’s a reporter for our local paper, The Newtown Bee. She’s been assigned to do a story on my new novel, and it’s due the next day.
Darryl has been running errands of his own and he comes home later than usual. He sits on the chaise in my office and we talk about our day and what else I should get at the stores while Tain and I are out. It’s getting late. I’m not going to be able to cook the chicken in time for dinner.
Tain and I go to the department store and are fortunate to quickly find sneakers he likes, the kind with memory foam in them. Next stop: the warehouse store across the parking lot. I pick up a rotisserie chicken and bags of bell peppers, cauliflower, and mushrooms for Darryl to roast.
At home, after dinner, I take my laptop into the living room and set up on our sectional to respond to emails and read student work for one of the MFA programs where I teach. The sectional is brown and cushy, like a gigantic hug, and it’s big enough for all three of us. Tonight Monday Night Football is on.
The day hasn’t turned out quite like I’d planned. But long ago I wrote down three essentials and my days are measured by these questions:
1. Did I pray/meditate?
2. Did I write?
3. Did I exercise?
Today the answer for all three is yes. So it was a good day.
At bedtime, I return to the dream world to see what there is to see.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?
- My essay “White Shirts.” It’s about a walk I once took with the amazing Lena Horne, and it turns into a reminiscence about my father and my ironing his shirts. I’m still on the verge of tears whenever I read it in public, which I love to do.
2. What book is on your night table now and why?
- Beneath the Apple Leaves by Harmony Verna. Harmony and I live in the same town, but we’ve only recently met. This is her second novel, published this summer, and it’s historical fiction about German immigrants. It takes place first in Pittsburgh, then in rural Pennsylvania. The family has to deal with a lot of anti-German sentiment because World War I is about to begin. These aspects are scarily close to what’s going on with immigrants now. I’m enjoying it; you can tell Harmony loves her characters.
3. If you find yourself with an extra fifteen minutes, what do you do?
- I go into the living room, turn on the television guide, and scroll through the premium channels to see if one of the films I like to watch multiple times is on. Since I’ve already seen it, I only need to watch for a few minutes, and it’s a really fun boost to my day. Such films include Shakespeare in Love, The Lake House, All the President’s Men, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Burnt, Spy Game, Cruel Intentions, Notting Hill, Pride & Prejudice, and A Little Chaos.
By Sophfronia Scott:
Thank you! I enjoyed writing this and thinking about the day as it unfolded.
What beautiful writing and what a pleasure to read. I love the truth in this piece regarding the multiple ways our days diverge from the basic spine of our original intentions & I love Sophronia’s 3 essentials. Thank you!
Thanks Sawnie! Yes, I think it helps to plan but hold the plan lightly.
I loved this. When I read about a writer’s day, I try to imagine that day being my own. Some are hard to imagine as mine, but this one was easy. At first, I was surprised by the altar and incense, but I continued to read. Despite our differences in spiritual beliefs, the goal was the same. We both pray to get our day started. Her day was just so normal. Praying/meditating, working (although from home), and exercising. And, like most of us, she still had to cram dinner in somewhere between family activities and errands. Very real. Thanks for sharing this.
You’re welcome Terri. And yes, as much as I like the idea of having that kind of writing practice where I produce 1,000 words a day or something like that, it’s just not how I write or how my life works. But I get a lot of writing done and I finish projects so I can’t complain! 🙂
Great post. Loved the 3 essential questions at the end of the day.
Thanks KK. The 3 essentials are my way of keeping things simple.
I loved reading this, hearing all about your day, Sophronia. It sounds so lovely, grounded, and productive. What thrilled me: The three things: pray/meditate, write, exercise; the Skype writing partner (it must work!); a reminder of your essay White Shirts; croissants twice in one day. Huge congratulations on your novel. I can’t wait to read it. xo
Hi Jodi! David Hicks actually wrote about our writing buddy system in the latest (October) issue of Writer’s Digest. It does work. We’ve been writing together for four years and we’ve produced so much work. We also cheer each other on!
It is hard to find time to write novels with social media and family needs! I’m glad you made the time, Sophfronia. Unforgivable Love is lush and beautifully written. I hadn’t realized until now that we share a friend in common. Thanks for including Sophronia in your series, Cynthia!
Hi Sarah! Thanks for your kind words about the novel.
I want to say I’m surprised we have a friend in common, but really it seems like every day I get proof that this writing world is way smaller than I ever thought it could be!