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 KIRIE PEDERSEN
I’d write my thousand words a day. It was a form of praying, I see now.
“Keep your writing secret, like a lover, because writing is your lover,” is another Carolyn See gem. If you don’t know her work, I recommend it all; as a woman who lived in the wild, in love with nature, she spoke to me early on, and I’ve re-read her many times. Today at Cynthia’s kind invitation, I’m sharing my writing life with all of you, but after all these years “meeting” you through Cynthia’s brilliant blog, I feel safe.
At three this morning, the sky is translucent pre-blue, the crescent moon suspended just outside my tent door. Because there’s no wind, the bay is utterly silent: no sounds of humans or their machines at all, and even the birds remain quiet. By four, along the shoreline, the birds begin their calls. I’m in my canvas tent on a cliff above the nation’s largest inland fjord. A few feet down the cliff is where my mother meditated when we six kids, born in ten years, all burst into adolescence at once.
“How unusual to live where you were born,” people say. The truth, though, is that for ten thousand years, the nəxʷsƛ̕áy̕əm̕ or S’Klallam (Strong People) walked along this very cliff on their way to nearby summer villages. My parents taught me that land cannot be owned, but only tended, and that is what I have devoted much of my life to doing. I drink my first coffee before I leave the tent. My secret is small batches of freshly-ground local beans, brewed and frozen, then topped with fresh cream.
If lucky, I think of Tao Porchon-Lynch, dancing, teaching yoga, and writing into her nineties. “When I wake up in the morning, I know that it’s going to be the best day of my life,” she says. “I never think about what I can’t do. Make sure positive thoughts are the first ones you think in the morning. And never procrastinate.”
And I turn to Czeslaw Milosz, whose Collected Poems sit beside me as I write:
Day draws near
Do what you can
In the cabin I designed and built over ten years while living in ancient trailers and tents, I brew stovetop espresso. Then I carry two cups and dark chocolate back to the tent. Alternating who starts first, my husband Mark and I share whatever’s in our mind, stream of consciousness style. The practice is called talkback, but the other doesn’t talk. It’s about deep listening without judgement.
My retriever Hanne and I head off for our daily two-mile loop through the ancient forest that stretches from behind the tent, cabin, and writing hut to the Pacific Ocean. This trail is where I learned to walk. This trail is where my mother taught me names of plants and birds and trees. On this morning walk, I might have more one-sided talk with my mother, or I might do another practice I call the Three G’s: Gripes, Gratitudes, and Gifts. I used to start children’s (and adults) creative writing classes with this exercise, letting them know it was okay to be mad and okay to be sad and also okay to be happy. Just say it out loud, and then you can make your pain or your joy into story or poem or drawing, I said. And they did, always.
I maintain the property I occupy as a wildlife preserve for snakes, mammals, butterflies, and birds. On the morning walk, I might see different bird species than those along the bay and bluff, and larger creatures or their tracks and markings as well, including the local Roosevelt elk herd, black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, and deer with newborn fawns so tiny they look like rabbits. I walk through fragrances I can’t quite trace, and I turn around to pass that spot again to see if I can catch it this time.
I write in what was previously a 1924 schoolhouse. Around these parts, one can get permits to claim buildings that are being demolished and then repurpose them. I call this writing shed Eagle Cottage. It started its life here as my daughter’s cabin; since 2010, my writing nest is what was once her bed. From here, as from the cabin and tent, I see harbor seals and their pups, and sometimes sea lions, porpoises, dolphins, or whales. The eagles flock here in abundance, in part because this wild shoreline provides haven for easy food, Plainfin Midshipman, an ancient fish species that lives on land and sea.
I like to begin each day’s writing with a fountain pen in a notebook, a lifelong practice. As E.B. White once said, “I took to writing early, to assuage my uneasiness and collect my thoughts.” Just as talkback with my husband eases us into the day, and the loop through the forest connects me with my ancestors and nature, so writing by hand connects me to myself. During two years of Covid lockdown, I reviewed all my files and folders, hard copy and digital, as well as submission records, and entered them into a database. On this writing day, I just completed a story, and I send it to a few places that have asked to see more work. I read the magazines I send to, as I’ve edited several myself and appreciate the dedication it takes to live a literary life. And that is how I met Cynthia! I read a story of hers that I loved, reached out, and she invited me to her blog, where I’ve met so many of you.
In early afternoon, I return to the main cabin where Mark and I embark on our cooking dance. Over the past decade, our remote rural area has drawn young people to return to the land and become organic farmers. As a result, our county is dotted with small farms and roadside stands featuring whatever’s fresh, paid on the honor system. We make our meals mostly from local scratch. Sometimes Mark’s the sous chef—he’s a much better chopper than I—and sometimes I am.
After our meal outside on the deck, I return to Eagle Cottage for the series of daily writing sessions I call “ticks” (see below under weird habits). As soon as I pick up an active piece and start working, I’m pulled in. My anxiety is assuaged. As Jia Tolentino says, “I can’t really think unless I’m writing.”
In the final hour of light, Mark heads into the forest with Hanne for their evening walk, and I return to the tent with my piles of books and frozen coffee for morning. Besides forests and inland seas and wildlife and organic farmers, our county boasts a Bookmobile. We can request almost any book in the world, and eventually the bus-sized Bookmobile will lumber over the mountains and into our dale to deliver them. I just finished Honoree Fanonne Jeffers’ Love Poems of W.E.B. Du Bois, an 800-page epic, which I loved. I didn’t worry about keeping it past the due date because Celeste, the librarian who drives the Bookmobile, knows us, and she’s reading Jeffers’ book too. Mark’s next on the wait list.
In the baby book my mother kept, she records my first word at eleven months as “book.” Books are the love of a lifetime and writing part of that joy.
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What one word best describes your writing life?
2. Please give us a few sentences about a work you love.
- Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enough. When I saw her play (three times) as a teenager, I felt transformed. I printed these lines on a notecard that sits beside me here in my writing perch now: “I found god in myself & I loved her / I loved her fiercely.”
3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?
- Just one? I write in what I call “ticks.” I set my phone timer for thirty-six minutes and six seconds and place the phone across the cottage, so I must get up when the alarm goes off. Between ticks, I take a break, preferably outside. I repeat “tick” five times per day, usually seven days per week. I like marking the four “sticks” in my planner, and then drawing the crossbar to complete it.
- Miracle Monacle: When the Witches Stopped Singing (Spring Issue 2022)
- Hunger Mountain Magazine Issue #24: The Blue Dress
- [PANK] Health and Healing Folio: Fall Like a Stone
- New World Writing: Alice Miller & the Dead Ex
- Emrys Journal: The Observer
- Sunspot Literary Journal: Pulali
- Cleaver: A Pierce of Angels
- Mslexia Issue 90: Nesting in Eagle Cottage
- Manifest-Station: Walk in the Park
- Wisconsin Review: Comfort & Joy
- Noctua Review: Restraining Order (fiction award finalist)
- Magnolia Review: Dark Time (winner of Ink Award, nominated for 2018 Pushcart Prize, Best American Essays)
- Under the Sun: Getting a Life” (Notable Best American Essays 2018)
- Still Point Arts Quarterly: Saving Paradise (nominated 2018 Best American Essays)
- Weber: The Contemporary West: Rules of the Wild (Fall Issue 2019)
- Sou’western Review: Ghosts
- Kaleidoscope Literary Magazine, Issue 75: How to Cry, Issue 85: Brianna’s Story
- Mount Hope Magazine: Bird Blind
- Cease, Cows: My Dementia
- The Great American Literary Magazine: A Perfect Day for Chanterelles
- Eclectica Magazine : The Executioners (nominated storySouth Million Writers Award)
- Ginosko Literary Journal (Issue 17, 2015-2016): Coterminous Lives (page 152)
- New Plains Review: Caryatid
- Lunch Ticket: Taking the Edge Off
- Apocrypha and Abtractions, a Twisted Knickers Publication: First Cancer then the True Self
- Pithead Chapel: The Smell of Grief
- Juked: Hawk Strike, with Feathers
- Foliate Oak Literary Magazine: Giving Blood
- Superstition Review: Autobiography of a Day
- Hackwriters Magazine: Pileated Woodpecker & Sword Fern
- Laurel Review Greentower Press: Eat Light
- Rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal: Sex for Groceries
- Burrow Press Review: Perfect Pitch
- South Jersey Underground: Canine Protocol
- Blue Stem Magazine: Accommodations
- Agave Press: Vegetables
- Quiddity International Literary Journal and Public-Radio Program: Congregation of Loons
- Avatar Review: Jared and the Llamas (Forgiveness, or Whatever)
- Folly: Candide’s Lament
- Arkansas Review: Giving Blood (from Foliate Oak April 2014)
- Chaffey Review: Why Anna Marie Stopped Cheating
- Caper Literary Journal: Smoke and Work
- The View from Here: Jiffy
- Glossolalia: Liberating Life and The War Hero
- RiverSedge: Like Hitler Dying
- Wisconsin Review: The Shack
- Teachers and Writers Magazine: Gifted Education, Another View
- Instructor Magazine: How to Start a Summer Arts Program
- WomenNetwork: Embracing Motherhood as a Single Step
- Alcoholism, the National Magazine: Breaking the Rules: How to Rearrange the Family Within
- Port Townsend Leader: Agent Orange and That Fort Worden Kid (state journalism award nominee)
- Seattle Post Intelligencer: Bonnie Island’s Golden Hoard, Pieces of his Spirit Sent Round the World, Carving Out a New Career at 55
- American Motorcyclist: Ride Together/Forever Ride
- Pandora: Personal Meditation on Sylvia Plath
- Seven Days: Seattle, a Family First
- Regeneration Magazine, Rodale Press: Speaking up for Walking Paths
- Writer/Editor: Gourmet Notebook, Fire in the Sky, Northwest Passage, numerous free-lance research projects including psychology textbook chapter, memoir, university literary magazines, internet startups
- Author textbook “Teaching Creative Writing Using Native American Songs and Myths” commissioned by Tacoma Public Schools, “Teaching Handbook for Tutors and Teachers” in Spanish and English commissioned by public schools, various curricula for teaching composition and creative writing grades one through college and elder programs