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 NICK NORWOOD.
I used to be an early riser, but something—age? stress? bourbon?—has put a halt to that. Now I’m an extremely early riser, awakening sometime between 2:30 and 4:30, at which time I abscond to the futon so as not to wake my partner, Susan. So this has become one of my primary reading times. I take my first nap between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m. with whatever book I’m reading—in this case Téa Obreht’s Inland—splayed across my chest, spotlighted by the reading lamp. I awaken a second time between 7:30 and 8:00 stiff and groggy, and, on Tuesday mornings like this one, Susan and I go for a run on the RiverWalk in downtown Columbus, Georgia, where we live in a loft in a converted 19th-century cotton mill, the Eagle & Phenix.
It’s still miserably hot here, and though our two-mile run is scenic, it also induces the kind of overheating that makes us wonder if this is how we’ll die, of heatstroke, on our morning run. We start at the bottom of the stairs to the RiverWalk just below my building, run north under the public art piece by the sculptor Mike McFalls displaying my poem “powerhouse” in 10-inch corten steel along the top of the seawall and directly opposite the powerhouse itself, continue to the 14th Street pedestrian bridge, cross its span over the Coweta Falls of the Chattahoochee River to the Alabama side, then run south through the woods along the winding, paved riverside path to the Dillingham Bridge, cross it back to the Georgia side, then run north for the final leg back to the Eagle & Phenix. Today, the herons wading in the cool water near the crashing falls seem to have the right idea.
Now it’s time for a favorite part of our day: coffee and sharing what we’re reading in online versions of various periodicals (The New York Times, The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The New York Review of Books, etc). I work the Mini Crossword in the Times while Susan’s in the shower (1:08; later in the day Susan will work it and send me her concession text: “1:57. You win. Couldn’t think of luau or I might have done better. What kind of word is zazzy?”), then she’s out the door to go to the main campus of Columbus State University where we both teach and where she is the director of the Faculty Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning.
This is my writing time: mornings between 8:30 and 11:00 every day but Monday and Wednesday (my teaching days). I usually start sitting down in a folding sling chair with a white legal pad in my lap, then move to my standing desk: a 1916 Victrola cabinet model purchased by my great aunt in Fort Worth in 1922; it stood in the corner of my grandparents’ farmhouse in East Texas throughout my childhood, has been in my possession the past 20 years and is the perfect height for working at my laptop. I sometimes move then to the typewriter I have sitting on an old school desk. This is my process: draft a new poem in longhand on a legal pad, type it into Google Docs on my MacBook, work through multiple drafts—often letting it sit for weeks or even months—work through more drafts, then type it out on the circa 1975 IBM Selectric, then back to Google Docs, and so on.
I shower, play guitar for an hour, then ride my bike to school for my office hours from 2-4 pm. My god, it is hot! It’s a 30-minute commute up the Dragonfly Rail Trail from downtown to CSU’s Main Campus in midtown Columbus, a good time to think, go over lines of new poems in my head, hold imaginary debates with Republican lawmakers, break a good sweat. In my office, I first turn on the box fan hidden under my desk, then begin administrating like my hair’s on fire (I’m the director of the Carson McCullers Center for Writers and Musicians, an outreach unit of the university): firing off emails, answering emails, deleting emails, ignoring emails, archiving emails. I sign some paperwork on my desk and take it to the English Department’s main office, to our administrative assistant Annie Carey. I sit by Annie’s desk for 15 minutes or so to chat, plan, share a few laughs. Then it’s back to the epic struggle with my email inbox. A few colleagues pop in, but no students today, and I leave at 4, back on the bike, the rail trail, home.
After another shower, I play guitar for a few minutes, then walk over to Nonic Bar (Columbus’s best attempt at a hipster, Brooklyn-style brew pub), one block from my house, to meet a former student, share a beer and a meal. (Susan is off to a conference, so this is a good time to see an old friend, though I’ll miss another of our favorite parts of the day: bourbon cocktails, dinner just the two of us, sharing tales of hope and despair.) Later, it’s home to listen to a few records. Ken Burns’s Country Music has put even more twang than usual into my rotation: Ernest Tubb, Loretta Lynn, Emmylou Harris, Merle Haggard. Then, around 9:30, I crawl into bed with Téa Obreht, turn out the light a little after 10, and promise Téa I’ll see her again in a few hours.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. When you’re writing, is there something you return to again and again for inspiration?
- Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Seamus Heaney, and Robert Frost have been the poets I return to most often, but lately R.S. Thomas has become a new inspiration, and Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” has become one of the best poems for reminding me of what I’m doing.
2. What one word best describes your reading life?
3. If you find yourself with an extra 15 minutes, what do you do?
- Play guitar.
By NICK NORWOOD