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 MICHAEL KLEBER-DIGGS
“…wakes me from my sleep, smoke wakes me from, wakes me from my sleep, smoke wakes me from…”
—from “The Smoke” by The Smile
I am dreaming about J when I receive the morning call to go down the hall that usually comes for me around 4:30. I worked with J about 12 years ago, and she hasn’t shown up in my dreams since. I wonder if she is okay. In the dream, J told me my brother called her and said something nice about me. My brother does not know J. While I sit in the dark trying to hurry so I won’t wake myself all the way up, I reach over to the cabinet for two Synthroid and take them with a full glass of water. I try to guess the time. Curly the cat didn’t cry out for breakfast so it’s early, maybe 3:28. I check Karen’s clock as I climb back into bed—off by five minutes (over). Karen is not making a sound. I make sure she’s okay. I think about: J, my brother, Karen, my schedule today, the class I’ll teach at 11:20, edits for the paperback edition of “Worldly Things” due days ago, freelance writing project 1, my current students at their various schools, freelance writing project 2, a poem I hope to write about R, a poem I hope to write about Danny Glover, research, insomnia, breakfast.
Last month, I made a calendar note to do this How We Spend Our Days piece two Mondays ago, then another one for yesterday. I kept forgetting until too late in the day. BTW, sleep does not return for me. After about an hour, I realize my day is already underway. I’m downstairs now, in our dining room which is also our living room because, since March of 2020, our living room has been a makeshift dance space for our daughter who is away at college studying dance. Mocha the cat is next to me scratching up our last good couch. Good morning to whoever is reading this. It’s 4:41 here. I am doing a thing I am trying lately not to do—screen time before reading time. Curly just cried out. Curly and Mocha want breakfast. More later.
6:16: Karen is up and the dogs are up and everyone has eaten except me. The basement is flooded, but we figured out why. It’s a minor thing—thank goodness. I check my email at Augsburg, check my email at Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists, check messages from students in the Metropolitan State University class on Race and Public Policy I’m teaching at Stillwater prison, check my own email too. I spend an hour or so reading experiencing the déjà vu: black dreams & black time by Gabrielle Civil, who I met in Philly five days ago. Gabrielle is pretty much exactly as I imagined: beautiful, effervescent, radiant, warm. A for-real genius and a really, really real person. the déjà vu is next-level art.
Jasper is next to me. Ziggy is next to Jasper. Ziggy was sitting on Karen’s lap, but ten seconds before her time-to-leave-for-work alarm chimed, Ziggy came over by me. Dogs don’t guess; they know time down to the second. Here’s a thought I am having while looking at my wife as she stands in the doorway about to leave—Karen looks particularly pretty today. Maybe I should tell her that. Maybe she’ll read this.
CRANE. PLAID. SMALL. STALL. SHALL. Wordle in 5. 🙁
I can’t get enough Jada Pinkett-Smith-Will Smith-Chris Rock content. I believe I benefit from our collective intelligence and stupidity, from connection to the zeitgeist and discourse about complicated things. A friend I admire, a disability advocate, wrote about Jada’s alopecia and Chris’ autism, about visible and not-so-visible conditions. Other friends (and strangers) have written from their hearts’ desires—some wanting protection/protectors, some despising violence and words and actions that imply possession. I’m reluctant to weigh in. I feel like it’s better for me to listen this time.
7:00ish. 32° in Saint Paul right now, not bad. Long walk the dogs. Windy out. Uphold (twice) the social contract owed by all human companions walking with dogs to all who live among them.
- last eight minutes of Close Talking: A Poetry Podcast (about the Gwendolyn Brooks poem “A Sunset of the City”);
- then music —“The Smoke,” “You Will Never Work In Television Again,” and “Skating On The Surface” by my latest obsession, The Smile; “Ain’t Nobody” and “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan;
- then part of an audiobook — “How Civil Wars Start (and How to Stop Them)” by Barbara F. Walter.
Covid rapid-test result: negative.
Breakfast: two eggs scrambled, a little cheddar, two veggie sausage patties, a bit more coffee, 32 ounces of water.
Today, I teach an Introduction to Creative Nonfiction class at the arts high school where I work as a creative writing instructor. The students are working on narrative essays, and they’re using class time to write. Next week is Spring Break. This year, I am learning a lot, teaching in a high school for the first time. Like this: I’m not very good at it. I want to share that I’m blown away by the things the students are making. This is an excruciatingly difficult time to be a teenager (pre-teen, child, adult…). The stresses of this time weigh heavily on young people nearing or entering adulthood. Sometimes I think we adults are missing a great emergency among young people. I meet with three students about an issue at the school, then one student, then another. I want to be helpful. Karen usually walks to work. I am near her workplace at the end of her day, so I pick her up. A wintry mix is coming.
Lunch: burrito bowl from a popular national chain, Coke Zero (I know, I know, I’m trying to quit).
4:00 or thereabouts. After a brief stop at home (only 45 minutes to check in with Karen), I’m off to Century College up in White Bear Lake. I’m a mentor in a mentorship program called Write Like Us that pairs creative writing students from five area community colleges with local mentors. We also have five national mentors: Hanif Abdurraqib, Brit Bennett, Kiese Laymon, Tommy Orange, and Tracy K. Smith. This is the first year of the program, and Tracy K. Smith is our first national author to visit. Excitement on excitement on excitement.
5:04. I park my scruffy Kia, walk into the building where Tracy is scheduled to read, go past a bank of chairs arrayed for the occasion, enter a small makeshift green room, and there she is. Tracy is a person of uncommon grace and graciousness. I am in awe of her of course, but when I’m around her, I often forget that. We are friends now. I feel like I could call her if I had a question about writing or life or Boston or how to edit a book for a paperback edition. I’m respectful of her privacy. They ask us not to take pictures, so I don’t. I know I could ask for a selfie. There is a small group of us in the green room. Friends all around: Sagirah, Rosie, Su, Paige, Matt, Brian, Valerie, Sara, Mahadev…
Tracy leaves the green room early to do a sound check. On stage, she talks about the questions that have been present for much of her writing life. She reads six or so poems, including “Bee on a Sill,” which I read with her (from my chair in the audience) because I have it memorized “…Hive. Heave. Give. Grieve…” I’ve taught it a few times. I talk about commonplace occurrences as the stuff of poetry, of art. I talk about inspiration. I talk about sound, letter patterns, poetic efficiency, and metaphor—how the poem’s central image is a subtle and ideal way to represent this challenging time.
Tracy talks about fear as a barrier to curiosity and curiosity as essential to empathy and understanding (empathy and understanding are themes that are prominent in my work). Then, Tracy speaks for an hour with Rosetta Peters, a poet, memoirist, and performance artist who is also one of the local mentors and a dear friend. (Keep an eye out for Rosie. Her debut, a memoir she’s working on now, is going to be spectacular). Then, Tracy spends an hour signing books for fans. She meets each person with active and sincere interest. I get to visit with her afterwards. We talk a bit about the demands of a busy life. We talk about our families, our dogs, poetry, how close our birthdays are.
9:00ish. Dinner at Spoon and Stable, a Gavin Kaysen restaurant, with Su Hwang and a friend of ours who visits Minneapolis from time to time. Su and Sun Yung Shin and I were roommates at AWP last week. AWP is a big annual writing conference. That’s why I was in Philly. That’s how I met Gabrielle Civil and a bunch of other writers I admire. It feels good to spend more time with Su back in town. I had mussels, mushroom soup, saffron gigli (with dungeness crab), most of Su’s beet salad, black cod, one apt glass of wine (The Teacher, a Thurston Wolfe Cabernet Sauvignon I like a lot), and no dessert (well, except a tiny cookie that arrived with the bill). Su talks about what she’s thinking about now, the ideas that are guiding her work at the moment.
11:37 when I arrive back home. I’ve been up for 20 hours and nine minutes. I think about working on edits for the paperback version of my book, but I am enervated. I promise myself I will get up early tomorrow, and I will. As I leave the garage and enter our kitchen, Jasper greets me at the door. I ask him if he wants to go outside. He says “no, let’s go upstairs.”
So we do.
*Notes, deviations, little lies, curations: I have insomnia sometimes, but not all that often. I usually sleep until the dogs wake me up (around 7:00). I did not grab a random coffee mug like I usually do. I thought about it (the ‘stay woke’ mug my friend Connie gave me was in the dishwasher (Rock Chalk everybody!)). I bribed the dogs with a snack in order to take the photo during our walk. I’m tinkering with time a bit, blurring details; I took two of the photos the day after the day I wrote this. I don’t eat at places like Spoon and Stable very often (although I’m going to Owamni tonight). I usually have two glasses of wine (sometimes three).
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What one word best describes your writing life?
2. When and where do you do most of your reading?
- In the bookends of the day and the week; in our combination dining room/living room.
3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?
- Buying lottery tickets then not checking to see if I won.