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 KIMBERLY GARRETT BROWN
I went to bed last night thinking about Madeleine L’Engle’s book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art. In it, she quoted Rilke’s Letter to a Young Poet:
This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: Must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity…
The familiar quote struck me anew. I grabbed a pen from the table next to my bed and wrote in the margin of the book: How have I built my life so that I can write? The question saddened me. My writing accommodates my life rather than the other way around. I meditated on this thought until I fell asleep.
I wake up around sunrise feeling as if I am coming down with something. My mind immediately goes to COVID. I lie there replaying my symptoms from July with a sense of dread. I don’t want to be out of commission for another week. The question I pondered last night floats through my mind. As does L’Engle’s statement about obedience. She writes: “Obedience is an unpopular word nowadays, but the artist must be obedient to the work, whether it be a symphony, a painting, or a story for a small child.” So even though I want to lounge in bed scrolling through my phone, I get up. I decide it isn’t COVID.
My husband is out of town, so the house is quiet and still. My dog doesn’t even look up from her bed as I move around the bedroom. I obediently follow the urge in my heart to do my bible study and write. I head to the alcove across the hall. The scripture I read echoes the message about obedience. So does the commentary which states, “The work of God’s people is significant to Him, and He watches over them as they do it.” It’s a confirmation to focus on my work.
I go downstairs, water my plants, and make myself a boiled egg and a cup of coffee for breakfast. As I scan my email, I recall which supplements my nutritionist advised me to take when it feels like I am coming down with something. As a precaution, I take them.
Even though I want to go back to bed, I settle into my favorite chair to write my morning pages. Recently there is a pattern of either fighting some “bug” or dealing with some family crisis or responsibility. When I have time for myself, I’m either physically exhausted or lack motivation. Could it be depression? Is this related to how I have built my life? I know that I must write. I want to write. And yet, there is always something going on. I spend the next few pages writing about this. The act of writing loosens some of the anxiety I’ve felt about my mother’s cancer treatment and my estrangement from my father. I feel lighter. The writing shifts to a character I’ve been developing for a novel and my plans to visit the Japanese gardens near my house.
Refreshed, I head to my office. The ideas for my character are bubbling up in my mind, but first I must finish a few things for Minerva Rising’s tenth-anniversary anthology. I feel the pressure to get it done today so it can go to the printer by the end of the month. The administrative work necessary to run a literary press feels like drudgery sometimes. I’d rather go to Target. But I stick to it and do the work.
I finish the editor’s letter, respond to email, and work through a few other loose ends. My obedience to get the work done feels better than I thought it would. I feel better physically. I contemplate working on my novel, but I feel a little hungry. I know if I start writing, I won’t stop to eat. I decide to do one more thing before lunch, rationalizing that it will only take a minute. I register for the hybrid fall launch party my publisher is hosting tonight. A half hour later I am still clicking through pages to find the zoom link.
It’s one thirty, and I feel a bit defeated. I wanted to actually go to Toronto for the launch but couldn’t. Too many logistics. I’m famished, and starting to feel a bit grumpy. I decide not to worry about the link. If I can’t log in tonight, they have the video of my reading.
I head to a gluten-free restaurant near my house. They sent a text blast this morning about a fried chicken sandwich with honey on ciabatta bread. Both are a rarity in my gluten-free life. I’m almost giddy at the idea. My plan is to eat my lunch while reading more of Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art.
It’s a bit chilly for south Florida, so I decide to sit inside. The tables in the seating area are close together. I select a table as far away from the other diners as possible. I open my book to read, but two older ladies to my right are loudly discussing their home renovations. One of the women begins to cough. She quickly explains to her companion that something must be in bloom because she wasn’t coughing before playing golf this morning. Maybe that’s why I woke up feeling crappy.
I try to go back to my book, but the younger women to my left are discussing mommy and me classes. I’m too distracted by their voices to read. I’m a bit annoyed but begin to listen. Maybe they will say something I can use in my writing. They remind me of when my children were younger, and I had similar discussions with friends over lunch. We’d talk about the kids’ classes and whatever household project we were working on. I enjoyed the camaraderie, but often wished the conversation was less superficial. I eat my sandwich focused on being in the moment.
I finally get to Target, but I don’t remember what I needed. A little boy stands in the center aisle excitedly yelling goodbye repeatedly to his friend at the other end of the store. A guy combs the aisle looking for a notecard for a gift on his lunch break. An older couple talks to the pharmacist.
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?
- I do most of my reading at night in my bed.
3. What is your strangest obsession or habit?
- When I write in my journal, I never use the backside of the page. I like the freshness of the right-side page. There’s no outline from the ink on the previous page.