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 MICHELE FILGATE.
Several years ago, Jo Ann Beard gave me some of the best advice on writing that I’ve ever received. She told our workshop at Tin House that you have to separate the craft of writing from the business of writing, or you’ll never be happy. She’s right. The craft is the only thing we can control. The business side is something else entirely.
Right now, I’m deep in the business side of things. I’ve spent the last month touring around the country to promote my first book, an anthology of essays I edited called WHAT MY MOTHER AND I DON’T TALK ABOUT. I’ve talked about my complicated relationship with my mother over and over again in front of strangers and during interview after interview. I’ve visited indie bookstores that I love and sat on panels at incredible literary festivals. I’m living the dream, and I know that. But there’s another side to promoting a book that’s so deeply personal. It can feel like reliving your trauma on a loop.
It’s almost impossible to write, to create, to have the necessary space in your brain to daydream while you’re on book tour. But I’m coming back to myself now that the chaotic schedule is more spaced apart. I feel my fingertips burning to pick up a pen and write in a notebook. I hear all of the unread books on my bookshelf beckoning me. I crave solitude and a break from social media, which is why I’ve found myself turning to books like How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. In that book, she quotes an acoustic ecologist named Gordon Hempton who says “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything.” I think about that a lot: how much I haven’t articulated yet, how much I’m waiting to say.
This past Tuesday, I woke up mid-morning like I usually do. I’ve always been a night owl, so these days I go to sleep around 2 or 3am. (That’s made it extremely difficult with all of the early flights during my book tour!) I make coffee with our Aeropress (my boyfriend has made me a convert) and prepare for a podcast recording of Literary Speaking hosted by a former student of mine, Crystal-Lee Quibell. We have an in-depth, engaging conversation about my anthology, and as soon as we’re done I rush out the door to go to Greenpoint in order to record a Longreads podcast on writers and editors who have edited each other, featuring me, Sari Botton, Carina del Valle Schorske, and Danielle Jackson. During our conversation, I’m reminded of why I’m so grateful for good editor/writer relationships. My book wouldn’t exist if Sari hadn’t seen something in my essay and published it in the first place. It was such an honor to include her beautiful essay in the anthology.
After back-to-back interviews, I head home to my Cobble Hill apartment, where I usually write on my couch or at the kitchen table. Joining The Wing (a coworking space) last year was a lifesaver. It’s hard to have room in a Brooklyn apartment, and sometimes I need to be away from home in order to be productive. But today I go back through Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, one of the best novels I’ve ever read, and make notes on quotes I want to include in a profile I’m writing on him. This quote is one that I put three asterisks next to, meaning YES YES YES, THIS IS WHY WORDS ARE SO IMPORTANT.
It is no accident, Ma, that the comma resembles a fetus—that curve of continuation. We were all once curled inside our mothers, saying, with our entire curved and silent selves, more, more, more. I want to insist that our being alive is beautiful enough to be worthy of replication. And so what? So what if all I ever made of my life was more of it?
I want more of it. More of life found in the quiet moments, in the spaces, in the silence, in ourselves.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. When you’re writing, is there something you return to again and again for inspiration?
- Books. Always books. I don’t understand writers who say that they don’t read while they’re writing, for fear of being influenced by other voices. I’m the writer I am precisely because of the many authors I’ve read.
2. What one word best describes your reading life?
3. Do you have any obsessions?
- I think you have to have obsessions in order to write. Otherwise, why bother writing about something? I’m preoccupied by so many subjects, but one of the main things I’m interested in is anything that is considered taboo to talk about.
Edited by MICHELE FILGATE