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 MAURICE CARLOS RUFFIN
It ain’t supposed to snow here. Jogging shouldn’t be potentially fatal. Aloneness shouldn’t feel this good. My writing days are full of wonder despite themselves.
The morning of Sunday, February 21, 2021.
I’m in love with mornings, and I always plant something—some idea, object, or task—to spring upon myself like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh in the moments after I’ve opened my eyes, but my soul has yet fully restored itself to my body. On this morning, the object is a calendar entry on my phone.
Daybreak, eight am: Sautéed Blueberries! Maurice of Yesterday says, as if this is a normal message that he would send and that I, Future-Present Maurice, would receive. I’m an honored fellow at the University of Mississippi this year. It’s bizarre that I should be an honored professor since I’ve only been a professor for eighteen months. But feeling that one is unworthy of a gift is what makes it an object of grace. You’re not worthy. That’s what makes it good. If you believe you are entitled to the gift, it’s just another transaction like to-go coffee: an expected, artificial pick-me-up. I’ve been living in John and Renee Grisham’s former home atop a hill surrounded on two sides by ponds and on two other sides by rolling brambles. It’s gorgeous land. A city kid like myself advisedly spent no small amount of time looking down my nose at rural people and their lands. But this land is beautiful and peaceful. So now I understand that I’ve been the fool. My hometown of clubs, shops, and playhouses…those are all constructions to make up for the lack of connection being immersed in nature brings. Rabbits and deer own this land; a sparrow sings outside the bathroom window. And there is a patrol of turkeys—nineteen of them—who circle the house every day. But I haven’t seen them once since the snow started a week ago. How do they eat in all this powder?
Mid-Morning: I read. I find that any day that starts with reading is a better day than one that starts with something other than reading. And I don’t mean just fancy “I’m a literary person” reading. First, I check my notifications. O, how low-rent this sounds! How tacky! How déclassé! Could we envision Hannah Arendt or James Baldwin making an entry that they skimmed social media for the better part of an hour? But this entry isn’t about me reading up on Kim Kardashian’s impending divorce from Kanye West. (I feel for them despite it all. They have four cute kids and had seven years of matrimony.) This entry is about a book by a writer named Akwaeke Emezi. I met Akwaeke at a friend’s party years ago and, in typical me fashion, had no idea who they were or what they wrote. But groked a powerful undercurrent of positive energy. The kind of energy that makes a person a great writer. I enjoy tucking into the first twenty pages.
Later Morning: Drift—I haven’t ventured more than ten feet from the house since last Sunday. It got down to four degrees the other day! There was sleet, then a day of flurry followed by furious dumps of white. By Wednesday, the property looked like it was wearing mink. But this is Sunday. I put on a pair of heavy Polo boots that look ridiculous with my tank top and pajama pants. But there’s no one to critique my fashion sense other than the birds who skip away as I walk down the hill toward the pond. I almost slip twice but make it. The pond is a frozen shelf. Is this what tundra is? I rush back up the hill for my phone’s camera. I don’t imagine I’ll ever see this again. There are many things I assumed I’d see again that I was wrong about.
Various Moments Immediately Before and After Noon: I should eat. I sauté the blueberries to create a reduction like I know what I’m doing. I really don’t. I used to own a restaurant, but I never cooked. I just bossed. In this huge former house of a literary master, if I don’t cook, I don’t eat. This is a glamorous situation, but I can’t afford a private chef. I’m a writer and educator for Pete’s sake. See here: I’ve learned the importance of a good pan with a tightly-fitted lid, the importance of avoiding the “hi” setting on the stovetop, the importance of plating a dish so that it looks like you love yourself. A cup of hot chocolate with whipped cream. My fried egg, glistening bacon, and a bowl of oatmeal topped with Sautéed Blueberries! It is all very life-affirming.
Mid-afternoon: I listen to podcasts. I would tell you more about the hosts and guests and topics, but then you’d probably like me less. And I can admit here in my early (almost mid-☹) forties that I want you to like me. I talk to a student during a scheduled Zoom session. Yes. I’m the kind of professor who will spend an hour discussing a young writer’s work and life goals on my off day. Do you like me now? The turkeys, I see, are alive and well.
Late afternoon: I also ate some waffles I made with my own hands. I ate them gluttonously and pridefully. They were ok. Better when they were fresh twenty-four hours ago. I’ve been spying the driveways around the house for days. Covered with snow and ice. I haven’t jogged in a week. This has only happened perhaps four times in the past two decades. I’m fairly losing my mind. But I knew that if I took my car from the garage, me and Madeleine (my prim, grey car’s name) would likely slide down the hill into the bramble and remain there until men in trucks came to retrieve us. Yet, I’ve seen the frost melting. It is clearing now. Escape! I try various running paths. All covered in snow and ice. I risk the wooded trail in short sleeves because I love unnecessary risks. I feel alive when I return with Madeleine to Grisham House, neither of us worse for the wear.
Evening: I thrive in the dark. I eat a little too much. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Later, a portion of red beans with pork chops. Chocolates. I watch an anime episode about a lonely, young scientist trying to save the love of his life. I had written a few hundred words in my new novel before my student meet-up. But was somewhat unsatisfied. And repeated the unsatisfying experience before the chocolates and the show. And yet…after eight pm something within my breast sprung to life. I will text a friend the next morning that I had the sensation of trying to time my jump in between two whirring ropes as in Double Dutch. And I made it(!), writing deep into the night, some twenty-five hundred words, the sensation of running/flying/embracing a lover after months apart. Everything in my day led me to this summit of experience, the feeling I live for. I didn’t plan any of it except the blueberries.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What writing advice do you give that you rarely follow?
- Be aggressive, fearless, legendary. I’m not this way in most first drafts. I have to work up to it!
2. What one word best describes your reading life?
3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?
- I don’t keep many obsessions for very long. But habit? I have many. I put my prepared cereal and milk in the freezer. Then I eat it like an ice cream cake. Same for PB&Js and granola with yogurt.