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 DONNA MISCOLTA
My day starts after a night of unsatisfactory sleep. I’m a substandard sleeper, never one to fall asleep easily and then after finally arriving at sleepland, eyelids dithering with indecision, I cross its threshold only to wake an hour or so later and every few hours after that, believing it’s time to get up. To shake things up, about twice a month I test my breathing and vocal cords by thrashing and growling awake from a nightmare. Not a pretty sight—or sound.
But, heck, even after that, I’m ready and thankful for another day. And always hopeful for another tomorrow. Despite, well, all the sad and scary things in the world. Fortunately, my days have so far been relatively unscathed with only the inconveniences of getting older to rue.
Up until eight years ago, soon after rising from my insufficient sleep, I would’ve been out the door for a run following some quick stretches. But thirty-plus years of running gradually wore away cartilage in my hips, and one day I couldn’t run. I took to the gym and established a routine of cardio followed by free and machine weights to maintain my stringy mass of muscle. Then came the pandemic, and I stopped going to the gym. So much for muscle.
But I do spend about half an hour doing a series of yoga poses and strength-building exercises while Jenny and the Mexicats music videos play on my laptop. Then I head out on an hour-long walk. In the warmer months, I get on my bike. I used to be an all-weather cyclist, but I just can’t tolerate cold hands and feet anymore. Once, I thought I’d never give up old habits like biking year-round. Once, I thought I would run into my eighties. I’m sixty-eight. Not old, but old enough to know when the gig is up.
My daily walk would be a good time to be alone with my thoughts, to meditate, reflect, observe. But no. I’ve become determined to achieve a passable level of fluency in Spanish so I listen to Spanish-language podcasts while I walk, repeating phrases under my breath, trying to maintain a reasonable accent in a mutter. Once in a while, an epiphanic brainwave on something I’m working on in my writing cuts through the Spanish. It’s nice to know that even when you’re not actively trying to squeeze out words onto a page, your brain is still humming the low, slogging hum of your work in progress. Also, I’m not so focused on the podcast feed in my ears that my eyes miss the heron in the naked branches or the lean of a chorus line of trees.
Back in the tiny apartment I share with my husband, I make myself a smoothie and a snack, and gratify my crossword addiction with a puzzle from the New York Times archive online. Some might call it procrastination. They would not be wrong.
Then I write for a while. I’m a slow, easily distracted writer. The refrigerator is right behind me. You do the math.
I’ve started writing a new novel. I’m still learning about the people in it. What’s in their heart of hearts, what twists their souls, how they spend their days (ha! much more interesting than mine).
Though my desk is in the bedroom, I bring my laptop out to the little eating table so I can have the natural light of the living/dining room windows and feel less hemmed in by our little pocket of space. We’re lucky that our fifth-floor view is unobstructed by other apartment buildings in this area that is fast becoming a forest of apartment buildings. We are not long for this city, I’m afraid.
In the late afternoon, after I’m satisfied with the writing effort, I go for another walk—a shorter one, just to stretch the legs, open the lungs, freshen the brain. If it were spring or summer, or even early fall, I would bring a book with me and stop at the nearby park to sit in the grass and read and nap and read some more. This is the luxury of being retired. I wonder how I managed to go to an office every day for thirty years. How did I get any writing done, any reading, any daydreaming? Everything was more compartmentalized and tightly scheduled then. Now, though there’s a fixedness to my daily routine, there’s a fluidity to my days. One runs into the next like a song on repeat you don’t easily tire of because it soothes as you await the change you know is always ahead. Something always lurks.
In the evenings, I move my laptop back to my desk in the bedroom. Above my desk are three framed drawings from the set of seven my son-in-law made for the promo video of my most recent book. It’s a collection of stories that feature a young girl confronting obstacles of racial stereotypes and her own self-doubts. The book is both sad and funny. And the drawings are sweetly deceiving. One shows a girl at her desk in a brightly colored but also lonely, unwelcoming classroom. Another is of the girl, a bit older now, who adopts a three-sentence motto—Be bold, be provocative, be heard—while her face is half-obscured by the sign she holds. The third drawing is of the girl, older yet again, at her desk writing to be heard in the darkness.
They remind me of the girl that’s still in me. They remind me of why I write.
I wonder if this is why sleep is elusive or agitated when it comes. Maybe the writing we do in the day is fueled by the terrors in the night.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. When you’re writing, is there something you return to again and again for inspiration?
- I like to start with a feeling or emotion and I think we can find all the emotions in our families, our extended families, and family lore. For me, family is a great source to mine.
2. Would you give us a sentence or two about a book you love?
- I’m not sure why this title popped into mind: Moon Tiger by the British writer Penelope Lively. It won the Booker Prize in 1987. I read it four decades ago, multiple times. I don’t recall the details, just how artfully Lively dealt with the past and present in this story of a woman in the last days of her life, recalling her audacious youth. It led me to read many more of Lively’s books, all of them intelligent, funny, and deeply perceptive of human relationships.
3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?
- Nothing I do is strange.