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 ERIC NGUYEN
My days start at five a.m. The incredible thing is that I don’t need an alarm. Since my husband doesn’t get up until later, I tiptoe around the house and get my yerba mate brewing. While steeping the tea bag, I pull up Worldle on my phone. It’s different from its better-known cousin Wordle, the word game. Instead, Worldle is a geography game. They give you the shape of a country and you guess what it is. If you guess wrong, it tells you how far away you are from the right guess and in which direction. You have five guesses. Today, I guess the country right in three tries. It’s Niger.
Brewed tea in hand, I come to my desk for a three- or four-hour writing session. I can write 1,000 words on a good day; on a bad one, maybe 100. Writing is a process, I remind myself.
Today, I am somehow deleting many words, moving scenes around, but there’s s a net gain in words. How did that happen? I keep track of my word count in an Excel file, a way to feign control over this creative process. Besides my caffeinated beverage, I keep a notepad of words on my desk. They’re words I like, and I imagine incorporating them somehow. Today, the word is “squelch.” Close by, a copy of Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style.
Nearing eight thirty or nine, I finally have breakfast, some kind of oat bar because who likes to cook in the morning? (No one, that’s the answer).
Despite working from home, it’s a grab-and-go breakfast, and I’m back at my desk to clock in for the day job. I work in communications and am allowed to be on social media most of the day, which can be a curse or a blessing, depending on the day. Writing quippy, condensed sentences keeps my mind off of the longer creative work, which is neither quippy nor condensed.
Work ends at five p.m., and after a quick dinner, I go into what I call the second shift. I edit a publication called diaCRITICS, which highlights Vietnamese and Southeast Asian diasporic arts. It’s a labor of love and fun.
Today, this second shift is cut short as I’m meeting with a book club online. I set up my beloved ring light and log in. Book clubs are much smaller than an open, public event, which is fine since I’m an introvert. What I particularly love about these small group get-togethers is that it makes the conversation more intimate. Book club members are looking to expand their reading experience and work out what the book means to them personally and within their world. It’s an engaging intellectual dialogue that reminds me of the power of books and stories and why they matter. And I’m always glad to be part of that.
As the sunlight wanes, I read. Since it’s summer, I sit out on the deck with a drink (today, it’s bubble tea). And immerse myself. Reading for me is always a bit of a balancing act between books I read for pleasure, books I read for research, and books I read to keep abreast of contemporary literature.
When the day ends, I take myself inside and dip into a tutorial in Portuguese. I have no idea why I’m studying Portuguese. I have no plans on visiting any Portuguese-speaking places, nor do I need it for professional development. I think it just comes down to a natural curiosity, this love of learning. Or maybe it’s because I once took a DNA test that said I was 0.1% Portuguese, and this is my way of connecting to that long dead piece of my family tree. Or maybe, it’s me thinking that if I learn another language, I can double the books I can read in a lifetime! I do love a world of possibilities. Still early in my lessons, I can confidently say “Você não é um tubarão.” (You are not a shark.) I am sure I will have to use it someday.
Right before bed, dressed in pajamas, a new ritual: Wordle with my husband. The last couple of nights’ puzzles have been difficult—frustratingly difficult—but today’s word proves to be easy. We get it in two tries. Bless the Wordle Gods!
We go to bed only to wake up to yet another day. How wonderful it is to wake up to another day!
NOT THOSE SAME 3 QUESTIONS…
1. What one word best describes your reading life?
2. When you’re writing, is there something —a book, a place, music, art—you return to again and again for inspiration?
- My bookshelves—all those writers, all those books!
3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?
- I have a habit of reading and walking, sometimes to my physical detriment.
By ERIC NGUYEN
I love this comment: “I think it just comes down to a natural curiosity, this love of learning.” And also, that you know how to say “I am not a shark” in Portuguese. And the image of kneeling before a shrine of books to pursue that natural curiosity and joy of language. Your “day” energized mine, and I felt better about my own fairly strict structures and rituals. Thank you!
Thank you so much for the kind words and for reading!
I’ve been reading Cynthia’s monthly column for years, and look forward to it each month as a way to connect with my writing and reading self. Just put your book on hold in my library and can’t wait to read it! In grad school many years ago I was studying immigration in the US and read a lot about the Vietnamese diaspora in New Orleans. Love your idea to keep a notepad of words on your desk – am going to try it. Thanks for sharing!
Hey Willow! What a delight to hear from you. Hope you and your family are well. –cynthia
Thank you, Willow! Yes, a notepad next to where I’m writing is essential for my writing process. Hope it helps you, too!
Another new author I’m going to have to buy!