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 ANNA SOLOMON.
Today starts with a return to the list, or rather the many lists (what do I need to write today? what calls must be made? are there emails—yes, always—relating to my own work or my children’s virtual schoolwork that I’m behind on) and then an attempt to fashion a schedule of some kind. Before, our daily schedule was relatively routine. My children left to go to school, to take one simple fact I hadn’t fully appreciated since they were too young to go to school. We all left, in some way or another, my husband and I to work—for me, a ten-minute walk to a shared writing space, but still, a leaving. I went somewhere. While there, I wrote.
Today any focused time I can find will be spent helping to promote my third novel, The Book of V., which came out a couple weeks ago. I was going on an eight-city tour, but that’s not happening. My family was going to be at home, an apartment in Brooklyn, but instead we’re in my mother’s empty house in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where I grew up. While we’ve figured out a few things on the rhythm front, it still feels like each day we’re attempting to invent something that resembles routine.
When I’m not in the middle of a pandemic and not in the middle of a book publication, I write in the mornings. I’ll get back there soon, waking at 6:00 to write for a couple hours, but for now, the lack of that dive into my work leaves me feeling unmoored for the rest of my day. Where is my brain? My heart? And… how lucky am I that my work, when I’m able to do it, uses me in such a full, gratifying way? Again, gratitude for what I haven’t always remembered to be grateful for.
But today. I work out a schedule between me and my son. (My husband helps our daughter with hers.) While he Zooms with his second grade class, I check emails and eat breakfast. I wonder if my recent fatigue means I’m low in iron and take an iron pill, then I wonder when it’ll be time for me to get the blood work done for the physical I missed in March, then I wonder if I should ask for a Lyme test while my doctor is at it, because even though we’ve been checking for ticks, we’ve also been spending a lot time in the woods.
After his Zoom, while my son semi-self-directs through a math assignment, I respond to emails about a couple upcoming virtual events, then try to write an essay pitch, but I can’t get the final sentence right. A snack has been asked for, and put off, and asked for again. I respond to a couple things on Instagram and make the snack and decide that maybe because I can’t really focus it’s better for me to sign the bookplates I owe to various book clubs and bookstores around the country, rather than trying to finish the pitch.
By far the least distracted part of my day is when my son and I go out into my mother’s garden. It’s late morning now, the spring finally warming, and the weeds are growing like weeds. We locate two discrete areas that will feel satisfying to clear and get to work. My son goes to get the wheelbarrow, his favorite part, and we fill and dump, twice. Then we check in on the robin’s nest in the tree next to the kitchen window. Yesterday there were two bright blue eggs inside. Today there are three. The robin screeches at us from a nearby sumac and we tiptoe away.
Inside, I listen to my son singing as he washes his hands. After lunch I update my website with a few new interviews and reviews. It’s been a strange ride with this book because on the one hand it’s been received so warmly by the world—it was chosen by Good Morning America and Belletrist as their book club pick for May and I’ve been hearing from readers across the country about how the book is resonating with them—yet none of it feels quite real. Maybe if I were younger and had come of age with social media and Zoom it would all feel less like an approximation of reality and more like the real thing. But I’m not and I didn’t and it’s hard not to feel a distance from the experience.
Later in the afternoon there’s a choice to be made between: figuring out how to make the papier-mâché volcano my son and I have made erupt; going on a walk with my daughter down to the ocean; and getting forty minutes of uninterrupted time in the attic office. I feel somehow wrecked by these choices, even though the consequences are relatively minor—maybe because each day for months now it feels like there are so many thousands of choices that I not only don’t have any clear guidance on how to make but also could have huge consequences. (Whether to wipe down groceries would be one example.) Anyway, decision-making has gotten harder. I choose the office time, and finish writing that pitch, and send it off, then regret sending it off after 5 pm (I should have scheduled it to send tomorrow morning, at 10 am!), and then go find my son and help him clean up from his school day.
When will I stop thinking in “before”? Maybe only when there’s an after? I don’t know. But I know that the best moments are those when I accept the during. We have a little dance party after dinner, and it’s good. Then I go upstairs, put on a blouse and make-up, and get ready for my event.
THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What writing advice do you give that you rarely follow?
- Trust the process. Embrace the unknown. It’s okay not to know where you’re going.
2. What one word best describes your reading life?
3. If you find yourself with an extra fifteen minutes, what do you do?
- On good days: Take a walk. On bad days: Scroll through Instagram.
By ANNA SOLOMON